Children Ask Questions about West African Art

By Abercrombie, Denice; Cochran, Mathilda et al. | Art Education, July 1997 | Go to article overview

Children Ask Questions about West African Art


Abercrombie, Denice, Cochran, Mathilda, Mims, Margaret, Art Education


INTRODUCTION:

This instructional resource section features four works from the collection of African art and the Glassell collection of African Gold at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. Students from Cheryl Jones's and Peggy Licea's fifth grade classes at Pleasantville Elementary posed questions about the works of art, allowing the students' interests to be the first consideration in this unit The children's questions focus on some of the most important visuals aspects of the art and provide a natural lead-in to a more detailed discussion of the work.

Mother and Child Figure,

Yoruba people, Ekiti region, Southwestern Nigeria, late 19th century. Wood, traces of indigo, 17 1/2 x 5 x 8 inches The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase with funds provided by the Alice Pratt Brown Museum Fund. 91.238

STUDENT QUESTIONS & DISCUSSION: What do the marks on her face symbolize?

In many African cultures, scarification is a means of adornment and is considered to be a very attractive feature. What are some ways that you or your friends adorn yourselves? (clothing, jewelry, badges, pierced ears, etc.) Consider means of adornment that have a special meaning or status for you at your school, in clubs, scouts, church, or synagogue.

Is there anything in that pot?

Although in a museum setting the bowl is empty, in the Yoruba society it would have been used on an altar and filled with offerings to facilitate communication with the spirit world. Consider vessels and name as many uses as you can imagine from everyday domestic needs to ceremonial occasions. What kinds of things are in bowls or vessels in your home? What kinds of designs would you make on a special bowl?

Why is the head so large?

In African culture, the head is considered the seat of wisdom, emotion, authority, and fortune and is emphasized in art to express this idea. What one characteristic of your best friend's personality do you like most (sense of humor, special talent, willingness to listen to you, etc.)? If you were making a sculpture of him/her, what part would you emphasize?

BACKGROUND:

Subject: In most African societies, the primary role of women is to bear and nurture children. This cultural emphasis on motherhood is represented by the plentiful images of women with children found in African art. This shrine figure probably represents the devotee of a religious cult who commissioned it as a petition or a thanks offering to the cult god, possibly for the birth of a healthy child. The primary focus is on the mother the young child on the mother's back is a secondary figure and treated as an extension of the mother's personality. The child, as a symbol of maternity, reinforces the role of the mother and her importance to the society. The figure would have been placed on an altar and the bowl used to hold offerings, probably a single kola nut, a common means of communication with otherworldly spirits. The kneeling posture of the mother indicates an attitude of respect and devotion to the cult deity.

Style: Yoruba sculpture, as is typical of much African art, is frontal, depicting upright posture and a basic symmetry. Asymmetry is restricted to secondary details, such as the head of the child in this figure. The Yoruba have developed a set of standard criteria of excellence for sculpture, which can be seen in this work. These include a midpoint balance between resemblance and likeness; clarity of form and line; shining smoothness, a polished surface that emphasizes the shadows of incised lines; emotional proportion, the size of parts related to their emotional emphasis; and the depiction of human figures in the prime of life portrayed with composure. This composure or "coolness" is seen as a lack of emotion in facial expression or gesture. The mother figure depicts this proper demeanor, contrasted with the inquisitive face of the child, who looks off in another direction. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Children Ask Questions about West African Art
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.