Liberia is known for its craftwork. As far as their crafts go, there are two general styles of art. On one side, many of their artistic crafts are stemmed in traditional African arts. Their decorative masks and wooden carvings are renowned across the world. They’re also known for their large wooden carvings of utensils (forks, spoons, combs, etc). All of these wooden carvings are steeped in traditional lore, lifestyles, and spiritual meanings.
Because of their history as being a freed slave state from the U.S., they also carried with them several of the folk art traditions of the southern United States. Sewing and quilting is one of the arts that continue to this day. Many times, these quilts would be given as gifts, even among high-ranking dignitaries.
|The Coffee Tree quilt|
Today, Liberian artists study a variety of modern arts, including painting and sculpture. Some artists study in Liberian universities while others travel abroad to Europe or the U.S. to study. Naplah E. Naplah is one artist who is self-taught but went on to study at the university, specializing in illustrations. He later transitioned into painting and has had several successful showings. I even found an American group who is trying to use art as a means of expression and therapy for the Liberian child soldiers who were drugged and forced to fight in the civil war.
|by Naplah E. Naplah|
Literary traditions were largely oral before the establishment of Liberia’s independence. There are exceptions, though: a few languages in Liberia have their own writing systems not based on any European or Middle Eastern influences. However, early literature consisted of mostly proverbs, life in their communities, religious texts, culture, and later on, topics on colonialism, Pan-Africanism, multiculturalism, and human rights began to seep into their writings. Poetry became a common means of expression. The vast majority of literature from Liberia is written in English.
|Edward Wilmot Blyden|
One of the most widely loved Liberian authors of the 19th century was Edward Wilmot Blyden. He was an educator and diplomat who, along with W.E.B. du Bois and Marcus Garvey, was instrumental in the Pan-Africanism movement.
As we moved into the 20th century, authors like Bai T. Moore, Roland Dempster, E. G. Bailey, and Wilton G. S. Sankawulo carried on the traditions of writing about the issues that plague their communities, country, and continent: modernization, exile, and loneliness. E. G. Bailey is known as a spoken word artist and radio producer. Bai T. Moore’s novelette Murder in the Cassava Field is often used as required reading for many schools. Wilton G. S. Sankawulo is a politician who has written a number of stories, poems, and novels, including his most famous one, Sundown at Down: A Liberian Odyssey.
Up next: music and dance