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Teaching about traditional African art.

What must we know about African Art?

* There are many styles of art in Africa, and they are continually evolving.

* Art forms propitiated negative forces and were used in the healing process.

* Ancestor figures are not fetishes. They are symbols.

* African beliefs consider all trees, mountains, burial grounds, shrines, and carved artifacts sacred and dwelling places for spirits.

* Nudity is not objectionable in traditional African beliefs.

* African art, like art in other non-African traditions, is connected to political and religious leadership and is used in initiation ceremonies and ancestor worship. Therefore, it reflected prestige and pleasure.

* Carved figures do not represent God.

* Traditional African artifacts were not created for art's sake.

* Traditional African artifacts were not created for display in glass museum cases. Rather, they were were functional and served a specific purpose. As such, artifacts were often destroyed after use.

What forms of expression might African art take?

* freestanding sculptures, plaques

* masks and ceremonial shields

* body art and textiles

* metal works

* pottery vessels, other tools

* beadworks and jewelry

* woodcarvings and furniture

* rock art and animal imagery

In order to establish a context for African art, what basic facts are important to know?

* Africa is the second largest continent in the world.

* There are fifty countries in Africa.

* It has an area of twelve million square miles.

* Hundreds of languages are spoken in Africa.

* Environmentally, Africa ranges from snow-capped mountain peaks, and tropical rain forests to savannahs and semi-arid regions.

Generally speaking, masks in Africa:

* depict a variety of subject matter

* are based on naturalistic human or animal forms

* come in different sizes

* are worn over the head with the person looking out from beneath

* can also cover the whole face and shoulders

* are carved in wood, cast in bronze, molded in clay, and then embellished with metal, fibers, feathers, and beads

* can also have other surface decorations such as hair ornaments, earrings, or beards

* are often painted red, black, or white

Generally, sculptures in Africa:

* are religious in nature

* depict more human figures than animals

* range from the tiny to the bigger-than-life-size

* vary in style from the naturalistic to the abstract

* depict the mother and child relationship with a seated ancestor figure more commonly than the sculptures depict a male figure

In conclusion, teaching a lesson about African art can and does afford a significant source of learning about another culture. Students' assignments can take different forms such as:

* a masquerade to celebrate a victory in a game, elections, graduation

* a compare/contrast essay on the characteristics of sculptures depicting women and men

* a compare/contrast essay on the variety of masks worn in non-African traditions

* creating a personal mask as a form of disguise commensurate with the cultural background of students

Finally, when planning a lesson on African art, it's important to know the reason why you want to teach it!

--Themina Kader, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
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Title Annotation:Bright Ideas
Author:Kader, Themina
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Previous Article:The art gap.
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