I thought I’d take a much needed break on the Near East and Mesopotamia and venture into another area of the world. African art is amongst some of the most interesting art in the world. For our Ancient Africa Study we are concentrated on West Africa and oral traditions. Below is a truly fun and easy to accomplish African art project for kids. To introduce the project I did a very brief geography lesson on the coast of West Africa. To tie in a quick review of Mesopotamia, I showed the children on a map where Nigeria and Ghana are in relation to the other countries we have discussed so far such as Egypt, Israel and Iraq (Ancient Babylon and Assyria).
This lesson is certainly a jump forward to be exactly on with the artwork. But my main objective here is just to expose the children to African art in general so I think it’s certainly acceptable to take a break from chronology and focus on a whole picture of Art Around the World.
Not much is known of African art or history until about 500 B.C. [source] But there are certainly stone carvings and paintings of Africa from Ancient times. It was helpful to remind the children of the different forms of art we had discussed so far: Cave Paintings and Stone Carvings and Metalworking and explain that these materials were used also in Africa during the Stone and Iron Ages but that the style and influences are different dependent on the culture and civilization.
Oral Stories and Tradition
We don’t know a lot about Ancient Africa but we do have the stories that were passed down orally by the people. We discussed folktales -stories originating in popular culture, typically passed on by word of mouth. Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti is one such story. This trickster is a character all children will love. But you can read any African story you like.
African Art Apriciation: Wooden Dolls
Africa is incredibly diverse. Each tribal culture has it’s own identity and traditions as well as artwork. I decided for this lesson to focus mainly on Akuabu wooden dolls. However, we took a look at the Kente cloth for color inspiration. The dolls are absolutely fascinating and insightful. They surely pointed to the importance of motherhood and beauty and of it’s importance to the Ashanti (also Asante) culture of modern Ghana. A great site to look at more dolls is Zyama.com . I also found it helpful in explaining the variety and diversity of African art from tribe to tribe.
African Art Project for Kids
- Multimedia art paper
- Oil pastels in bright colors
- Black Acrylic Paint
- Craft Paint Brush
- Scissors or scratching tool
1. Using oil pastels, color the entire paper all different colors. For this project I made sure each child had good red, green, orange and yellow pastels. With one or two additional bright colors.
2. Paint over the color entirely with black acrylic paint. We used black tempera paint as it wasn’t in our co-op budget to buy brand new black acrylic paint. And while it was okay for us in a pinch I don’t recommend you use it because it flakes much more easily and resists the oil in the pastels. Stick to acrylic for a better finished product that will last much longer.
3. Let dry overnight. Once dry, scratch off black paint to reveal the color behind. I had my students use their child safe scissors for scratching, but you can use any tool that works well. Begin with a circle in the middle of the paper. You can trace around a template or other object to make a perfect circle (we used bowls). Next add facial features and neck and then lastly the designs around the remaining edges of paper.
Student Art Gallery:
The following lists each lesson by civilization, what each lesson’s focus will be, and the media/project tutorial. (These are subject to change.)
- Prehistory– Cave Paintings- Painting the Ancient Way
- Sumerians – Ancient Writing -Cylinder Seals in Clay
- Egypt – Egyptian Art and Hieroglyphs- Multi Media/ Egyptian People Coming Soon!
- Assyrians and Babylonians – Glue Painting- Babylonian Art Lesson for Kids
- Phoenicians– Ancient Dyes- Batik Bags
- West Africa– Akuaba Wooden Doll- Scratch Art [ you are here]
- Minoan and Mycenaean– Early Greek Masks-Minotaur Masks
- Persians– Persian Carpets and Decor- Paper Weaving
- China- Tangrams
- Greece- Tessellating Jars
- Rome- Mosaics- TBA
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