Yoruba Door Panels

Door Panel

late 1800s
Master of Ikerre
Active Dates: 1900-1914
panel, door
Native Arts acquisition funds
About the Artist

This door has been attributed to “The Master of Ikerre.” Though there are questions surrounding who exactly this was, we know that the artist was a Yoruba carver active in the early 20th century. The Yoruba people live in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin in Africa. Their artistic tradition is one of the oldest in Africa. It emphasizes the individual artist, allowing artists and craftsmen to use their own unique style while drawing upon conventions from the past. Sculpture is a particularly popular art form in the Yoruba culture.

What Inspired It

The Yoruba used doors like this one on important buildings such as shrines, royal buildings, or storehouses for valuable goods. While the doors were not meant to invoke a narrative, images carved into the surface can suggest historical moments. Doors were also made to enhance the prestige and status of a shrine dedicated to a Yoruba god, or orisha. There is some speculation that the images on this door reference Yoruba civil wars that raged between the 17th and 19th centuries. Another possibility suggests that the door might have been carved to adorn a temple or shrine dedicated to Olokun, the Yoruba orisha of the sea. No one is exactly sure where, or for whom the door was originally mounted.


Two Pieces

The two pieces you see here once formed a single door panel. The DAM acquired one half of the panel in 1973. In the summer of 1979, a visitor to the museum noticed the panel and mentioned that he owned a piece that was similar. Through further correspondence it was established that his piece was the missing half. The museum was fortunate enough to acquire the second half of the door in 1980.

High Relief

The door is carved in high relief, meaning that the images of human and animal figures project out from the solid surface of the wood.


The images on the door are divided into groups, forming horizontal bands. In each band, the artist used the same figure over and over, rather than carving figures that are distinct from one another.

Women Carrying Pots

(top row, left side) Women are the potters in Yoruba society. They make many different types of pottery for practical use, including pots for cooking, eating, and storage. Unique pots are made in honor of Yoruba deities. These women could be carrying the ritual mud pots associated with Olokun.

Fish Eagles

(top row, right side) These four birds have been described as a type of raptor—a fish eagle. Priests and priestesses carry fish eagle feathers in ceremonies of worship to Olokun.


(both sides) The soldier imagery—including soldiers with bows and arrows, men on horseback, and men with guns—might reference the wars of the 17th and 19th centuries.

Women with Babies

(second row, right side) These figures symbolize fertility.

Men with Ceremonial Sword & Flywhisk

(next to women with babies) These items embody authority associated with Olokun, the king of the sea.

Female Musicians with Rhythm Pounders

(bottom row, left side) Drummers play throughout ceremonies to Olokun, accompanying praise songs.


(bottom-most snake-like figures, right side) The mudfish is known as Olokun’s “playmate,” and is considered the best sacrifice to Olokun.


(bottom, left side) The python is also a “playmate” of Olokun. He conveys messages from Olokun to his followers, and reminds followers to make sacrifices to Olokun.

Twin Monkeys

(bottom, right side, facing opposite directions) Monkeys are associated with the Yoruba "cult of twins." Here, they may reinforce Olokun’s connection with fertility and childbirth.

More Resources


Beier, Ulli, and Bakare Gbadamosi. Not Even God is Ripe Enough. London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1970.

A collection of Yoruba stories.

Beier, Ulli, and Bakare Gbadamosi. Yoruba Poetry. Nigeria: General Public Section, 1959.

A collection of Yoruba poetry.

Carroll, Kevin. Yoruba Religious Carving. New York: Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, Inc., 1967.

A look at the various styles of Yoruba religious carving.

Drewal, Henry John, and John Pemberton III. Yoruba, Nine Centuries of African Art and Thought. New York: Harry N. Abrams Publishers, Inc., 1989.

A very comprehensive collection of Yoruba art that also elaborates on Yoruba history and culture.

Falola, Toyin and G.O. Oguntomisin. Yoruba Warlords of the 19th Century. New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc., 2001.

An overview of Yoruba warlords, wars and diplomacy across the 19th century.

Owomoyela, Oyekan. Yoruba Trickster Tales. United States: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

A compilation of Yoruba stories about trickster "Ajapa" the tortoise, stemming from their tradition of evening storytelling.

Walker, Barbara K. and William S. Nigerian Folk Tales. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1961.

A collection of Nigerian folk tales.

Children's Books

Hetfield, Jamie. The Yoruba of West Africa. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1996.

An early childhood book about the Yoruba people.

Levy, Patricia. Cultures of the World: Nigeria. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1996.

A book for ages 9-12, about different aspects of Nigerian life.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.