Colonialism and the expansion of empires

Poster, Nigeria's exports

Designed by Gerald Spencer Pryse, printed and published by the Empire Marketing Board, 1927
Print on paper

Object number 1935.665
Given by the Empire Marketing Board, 1935

See this object at Manchester Art Gallery This object may not always be on display. Please check with the venue before visiting.

Poster, Nigeria's exports

This poster is one of a series of more than 200, commissioned and published by the British government's Empire Marketing Board between 1926 and 1933. The EMB's main functions were to research the production, trade and use of goods throughout the British Empire and to promote the idea of 'Buying Empire'. It organised poster campaigns, exhibitions and shop window displays, 'Empire shopping weeks', lectures, radio talks, school tours, and advertisements in the national and local press.

This image, by designer Gerald Pryse, shows an exotic and romanticised view of palm oil production in Nigeria. International trade in palm oil began in the early 1800s and became the principal cargo for slave ships after the abolition of the slave trade. The development of industry in Britain had increased demand for palm oil as a machine lubricant, and trade increased rapidly. As people in Europe began to take sanitation and hygiene more seriously, demand for soap also increased, resulting in the production of oil for soap manufacture by companies such as Lever Brothers. In the early 1870s, exports of palm oil from the Niger Delta totalled about 30,000 tonnes per year. In 1897, competition for control of Nigeria's oil production resulted in the British raid on the Nigerian kingdom of Benin, and the notorious looting of the Benin bronzes. By 1911, British west African territories exported 87,000 tonnes, and Nigeria remained the world's largest exporter of palm oil until 1934.

The Empire Marketing Board was closed down in September 1933, partly as a result of government cuts, although colonial governments had also proved reluctant to join it. Manchester Art Gallery was given an almost full set of the posters in 1935. Produced by some of the best artists and designers of the day, they were collected by the gallery as an example of outstanding British design and many are visually stunning. However, seen from today's perspective, their promotion of an imperial world view and use of stereotypical images of people and places makes for often uncomfortable viewing.

This information was provided by curators from Manchester Art Gallery.