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Lesson 1

Lesson 2
Social Studies

Lesson 3
Visual Arts
Art Making

Lesson 4
Black History

Lesson 5
Black Artists

Lesson 6
Music & Dance

Lesson 7


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Lesson Three: Nigerian Art

All Three of the Arts Education Standards will be addressed in this lesson:

  1. View art to inquire how the arts reveal universal themes: reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics of their work and the work of others.
  2. Understanding art in context demonstrating how interrelated conditions (social, economic, political, time and place) influence the development concepts in the arts.
  3. Create art-knowing/applying the arts disciplines, techniques, and processes to communicate original/interpretative work.

In lesson two the students learned about the world of the Yoruba living in Nigeria, through the social studies component of this lesson unit. They also read literature to assist in the interpretation of the meaning and significance of Yoruba sculpted, wooden and beaded forms used in rituals and ceremonies. (Objects containing a "Life Force", exacting a presence that is symbolic of the spirit of ones' ancestors.) They also conducted research to identify and learn more about their ancestors.

Ibeji Sculpted Forms from the collection of Dr. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.

Lesson Overview:
This lesson discusses the concept of art and its value in Yoruba society. Specific Yoruba artists will be identified and discussed. A video is available to illustrate this discussion. There is a two-part art history/art inquiry component concerning various contemporary Nigerian artists-those who work with wood as an art media and those who work primarily with beads. At the conclusion of this didactic introduction the students are guided in an art making activity. Each student will create a wooden and beaded sculpted form that represents his/her ancestors. These activities can occur over one or two blocks of time. A written reflection at the end of the art making activity will be used as an assessment tool. This lesson is age appropriate for 3rd-5th graders. Additional background is provided as reference material for the teachers.

Lesson Objectives: Students will

  1. Examine and explore the world of a few Nigerian artists from the Yoruba culture and their use of design and conceptual components in their African art.

    2 Dimensional Contemporary Yoruba Beadwork
    by Jimoh Buraimoh, 1988, Collection of The Bead Museum

  2. Transfer the above components of the African art into conceptualized, personal contemporary art works.
  3. Create their own 3 dimensional forms to represent their cultural beliefs and perspectives.
  4. Use various media/materials (wood, colored markers, beads, yarn, ribbon, material, wire, string, feathers, etc.)
  5. Exhibit their artworks in the community in which they live.

Student Assessment:
On completion of this project, students will write artists' statements that detail what they learned from this activity, either from another culture's perspective about life or about the art making activity itself. The homeroom teacher, visual arts instructor or anyone coordinating the lesson unit can instruct this activity.

Also, an evaluation rubric (values 1-4) will be applied to each student's art project. Following are the evaluation criteria:

  1. The student participates in the beginning of the lesson, but is unable to put anything into physical form.
  2. The student begins the artwork, but does not complete it.
  3. The student is able to come to an artistic material conclusion, but is unable to articulate its meaning.
  4. The student completes an artwork and is able to explain its purpose and relevance to the peer group.

Lesson 3: Nigerian Art, Student Activities

  • Third - fifth grade students will view the first 17 minutes of the Smithsonian, PBS video, Nigerian Art: Kindred Spirits.
  • Students will be presented with information about the beliefs and arts of the Yourba people of Nigeria, Africa.

    Kinetic Metal Sculpture,
    from the ensemble "Audience", 1986, by Sokari Douglas Camp,
    Collection of the African Museum, Washington, D.C.

    Nigeria is the size of Arizona, California and Nevada combined. There are 100 million people living in Nigeria from over 250 different tribes. Of those 100 Million approximately 25 million are from the Yoruba culture. Teachers may want to download the enlarged images throughout this text for posterboard presentation.

    Questions to be addressed and discussed from the video:

    1. What can we learn from Nigerian Art?
    2. Where does its vitality come from?
    3. How is contemporary Nigerian art different from contemporary Western art?
    4. Who are some of the Nigerian artists from the Yoruba culture?
    5. What are they telling the viewer about their art?

    1. African (Yoruba) art is concerned with
      reaching beyond and beneath nature.
      In Yoruba culture all living forms
      (plants, animals, and humans) are thought
      to be interconnected in this universe.

    2. The art is meant for the viewer to contact
      and become a part of the vital force,
      connecting to the "Life Force" that the
      object contains. The teacher may need
      to review the concept of the "Life Force"
      presented in Lesson Two. Since
      there is a spirit in the tree the object
      made from the wood of a tree "exacts a

    1. "The contemporary artists of Nigeria create art that blends the past and present. Tradition and beliefs of a people are reflected in their art." All traditions and rituals make sense of the world. "Art is a ritual and if an artist is looking for his/her roots then an artist must examine one's past rituals and ancestors to know ones self." - Smithsonian video. The arts give creative expression to these traditions and rituals. And when looking at and beyond objects of art "as a means of comprehending common human experiences we enlarge our experience of the world, opening a window on what life is and was like for people in widely different places and times. We can also, thereby, see our own assumptions and practices afresh." Neil MacGregor, The British Museum, p.5.

      Answers to questions 4 and 5 are woven together later in the text.

    2 Dimensional Yoruba Beaded Painting
    by Jimoh Buraimoh, 1988, Collection of The Bead Museum

    Additional Background Information for Teachers

    "Tradition helps us understand the present. It is a wisdom that uncovers our basic human nature." "Tradition is fundamental to Life's quest. A quest for identity." (Narrator in Smithsonian video.) And one's quest for understanding to these universal questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose for being? Where am I going to go when I die? These SAME questions are answered differently from one culture to another, since the beginning of time, throughout the world. The way they are deciphered and explained becomes the ideas, values and beliefs in which that particular society of people live and behave through explaining their universe, its meaning and purpose. These answers become one group of people's reasons for being, their philosophy of life.

    An interview between a Bead Museum staff member and Olufemi Babarinde will be included in the context of understanding the traditions and beliefs of the Yoruba people. Dr. Babarinde is an Associate Professor at Thunderbird International School of Business in Glendale, Arizona. He is originally from Nigeria and travels with graduate students to Africa, helping students of international business management mesh western ways of thinking with those persons who come from more traditional African backgrounds.

    (Footnote: "For many people around the world the well-being of the wider group is an important as the well-being of individuals. We are all dependent on other people for our survival, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. Most people recognize that their well being depends on other relationships too-with other species, spiritual powers, and with the earth itself." MacGregor, p.9.)

    The Bead Museum Staff Member: I understand there are multiple philosophical ways that one views oneself in a Yoruba community of Nigeria, as opposed to those persons in an urban society in the United States or Europe. Can you discuss one of these primary differences?

    Olufemi Babarinde: In western societies there is a philosophical belief that "I think, therefore I am." This concept affords a more trenchant distinction between the rational/modern human and the "fatalistic" traditional human, who believes in metaphysical forces/power---forces beyond his/her control over events in his/her life. In African philosophy the belief is "I am because WE are." You are because WE are celebrates the group concept in the African Cosmo. Group dynamic is the main basis of social interaction, as manifested in the (extended) family, rites of passage, rituals (like a pledge class of a fraternity/sorority), ethnic groups, clans, etc. This philosophy is reflected in African proverbs. For examples, "a hand does not scrub itself," "a hand does not clap by itself," "a finger does not crush a groundnut by itself," "a bird does not fly on one wing," etc. All of which suggests that in the African Cosmo, a man is not an island unto himself. Man is always a part of a group, however that group is defined. In the traditional African setting, being a part of a group is a powerful deterrent from social mischief.

    In this image, Sonny Sholola, Nigerian, from the Yoruba Culture, paints traditional markings on a youth's face. The young man is now acknowledged as part of a group. This reinforces a universal need to belong to a community.

    "People all over the world respond to challenges of life in marvelously exuberant and creative ways. In the process, they make and use many beautiful and extraordinary objects, and also, sometimes, invest quite ordinary things with an importance and significance beyond their appearance." MacGregor, p.6.

    "Art is not static. Like culture, art changes its form with the times." African art continues to evolve through change and adaptation to new circumstances: politically, socially, culturally and economically. The African view of art is many times a view that is identified with other aspects of African life. Until European entry into Africa there was not an African word for art. Instead those objects of creative expression with significance and meaning were understood from an African perspective as the Creative Imagery of our Ancestors.

    Yoruba Beaded Sculpture from the collection of the Bead Museum

    "The realities of life are expressed in the symbolic structure of the work of art, IMAGE, being the link." For this reason, the African view of art has an inner knowledge and spiritual participation rather than the result of a rational or analytical approach. Both the maker of, and the art of what is being made, has traditional and religious associations. Thus the field of so-called African Art is really the realm of the Ancestral World of Images. African arts of today are carving our a place of honor as art that mirrors the political, social, civic, educational, religious and cultural aspirations in a way that serves the artists of Africa.

    In an e-mail received from Dr. Mary Stokrocki, Art Education and Research Professor at Arizona State University, on February 16th, 2003, she reinforces this concept with a reference to the work of anthropologist Dissanayake:

    Art is a part of everyday life (global) not apart from life. (disinterested, modernist). Art is not a concept in other cultures. Art is "making something special" a fundamental human proclivity or need. Looked at this way, art, the activity of making the things one cares about special, is fundamental to everyone and, as in traditional societies, deserves to be acknowledged as normal. And normal, socially valuable activities should be encouraged and developed. (Dissanayake, p.223.) Dissanayake also notes that exploration, play, shaping and embellishing as congruent to what people consider Western art.

    Because people cannot agree on the concept of what art is, anthropologists, such as Dissanayake, suggest that we ask the major question, "What is art for?" This is a question related to the function of art. She suggests that "Art is making something special" as seen in rituals and ceremonies. She explains the similarities between rituals and art:

    1. Compelling in that they arouse feeling and attention through beautiful and enticing objects
    2. Nonordinary in using unusual and poetic language and voice, exaggerated movements, repetitive music and actions, and such extravagant displays as flowers, clothing and numbers of performances and people
    3. Incorporating moods of joy or fear
    4. Separating into another setting such as a museum or sacred place
    5. Combining symbols with a mysterious meanings (Dissanayake, pp.47-48)

    Continuing Dialogue for Students Facilitated by Teachers to answer questions 4 and 5.

    In the Smithsonian video, Nigerian Arts: Kindred Spirits The following artists discuss their visual artworks and their meaning?

    El Anatsui:

    He works with wood as an art media using a chain saw and fire to change the wood's form and color. Anatsui likens the use of the chain saw to the destruction brought to Africa by the period of colonization. And the use of fire, to char his wooden sculptures, unifies the artworks by blackening them with a flame.
    "New wood has poetry locked in it, Old wood is poetry itself, time having worn off the prose." - Anatsui

    In one of his artworks there are sections of tree branches lined up, one next to the other. The Ancestors Converged Again, 1995. The tree sections are then carved and painted in an area of red, blue and yellow painted marks. He likens this artwork to wood that is representational of traditional African cultures that have been maintained and transmitted from the ancient times of the ancestors down through successive generations to the present. (Please download images of these three Nigerian artists work from the web sites listed.)

    El Anatsui's art has a number of reoccurring themes. One of these is the destruction and reconstruction of materials as metaphors for life, experience and changes in Africa under colonialism and since independence.

    Yoruba Divination Sculpture and Container for Kola Nuts
    at American Museum of Natural History, New York City.

    "These Nigerian artists are creative thinkers who question the role of art in their culture." They reach beyond and beneath nature, "to connect with and become a part of the artistic image". Again, the image is not meant to represent the actual object, but rather the vital force within the object itself. (Narrator on the video.) Therefore, the use of wood as an art medium becomes the vital force of the "Tree of Life", a metaphor for the "Life Force" of the ancestors.

    Staff Member: Anatsui's work shows a pre-occupation with tradition and change. Is there politically and economically conflict between the traditional African ways of life and the contemporary actions of daily living when it comes to inanimate objects and the spirit in these objects?

    Babarinde: Yes, some inanimate objects are sacred and assume reverential importance. Certain trees, forests, rocks, mountains, etc. must not be tampered with, demolished, desecrated, etc. They are shelters for "nature spirits"; and if they must be tampered with at all, proper "appeasement" ceremonies must be carried out in advance. Otherwise the angered spirits may go on a wrecking rampage in the community. That is why some who are steeped in traditional African beliefs often clash with the agents of westernization/modernization, the multilateral institutions (e.g., World Bank), the government in the capital city, etc. - when, for example, there is a proposal to construct a road or a pipeline through sacred forests. Such clashes are all-too-common around the world whenever westernization/modernization is brought to the frontiers of tradition. Further more, there is a clash of cultures (apologies to Professor Huntington) when the African arrives in a western setting (both in Africa and in the West), and has to function in two worlds.

    Staff Member: Could you please explain the importance of the concept of the "Honoring of Ancestors?"

    Dr. Babarinde at The Bead Museum

    Babarinde: According to African culture, religion permeates every facet of life, and one can appreciate the centrality of religion to the African by outlining his/her hierarchy of religious and philosophical reality: God, spirit messenger (ancestral guides), woMan, animals and plants, inanimate objects. For the African, God is always in charge, which is why he/she is likely to amply and frequently intersperse conversations with references to God-"in sha Allah" (mainly by the Islamic faithful) or "God willing"/"by the grace of God"" (mainly by the Judeo-Christian faithful). God exists in the ancient oral history and vocabulary of Africa, which confirms that Africans' awareness of God, predated the arrival of the imported religions-Islam and Christianity-on the continent.

    Lamidi Fakeye

    Fakeye comes from five generations of Nigerian, Yoruba woodcarvers. Contemporary artists draw upon the foundations from traditional artists who lived hundreds of years ago. His complex and highly detailed wooden forms are rooted in traditional Yoruba systems of values and beliefs. To Fakeye abstraction is an ancient form of tradition. His sculptural forms have heads that are larger in proportion to their bodies. (In Yoruba traditional beliefs the soul is housed in the head, not the heart.) "Fakeye has elevated Yoruba traditional sculpture to a level of excellence appreciated and sought after, all over the world." Images of his work can be found at:

    Emmanuel Taiwo Jegede

    Jegede interprets Yoruba culture through the concept that "Art without ideology is dead". He is quoted as saying, "I see art through Life; and I see Life through art. Art is not just art; art is the totality of the "Circle of Life". From the time of a birth of the child, to the time that the child becomes an old person and dies all of the cycle of life is full of art. The arts tell stories about all things that make life possible from relationships with fellow human beings to all that is living that surrounds one." - Smithsonian video. "The power of Emmanuel Jegede's wooden sculptures and carvings gives the viewer an immediate sense of contact with age-old African traditions."

    Staff Member: Could you please explain in more detail the African concept of the "Cycle of Life" and the "Celebration of Life" once a person dies?

    Babarinde: Typically when someone reaches the seventh stage of life (birth, naming, initiation rite of passage, marriage, family, old age/grandparent, death) before passing on death is "natural" and the burial is one of celebrating the departed one's life. Passing away in the early stages of life (prematurely) is "unnatural", and sad, and may require the performance of certain rituals (by those who are steeped in tradition). The African believes that one joins one's ancestors in death. In fact, the living can communicate with the departed (ancestors) through spirit diviners. No African ritual is devoid of ancestral spirits-always summoned in time of need of "cleansing" ceremonies, etc.

    The first part of Lesson Three has discussed the use of wood as a medium for creative expression in the Nigerian, Yoruba art world. Part two will examine and explore the role of beads: their significance and meaning in the beadwork of the Yoruba culture.

    Background Information for Teachers
    To present the art history of the Yoruba World of Beads to students.

    Staff Member: To reintegrate the African philosophy of "I am because We are" (You are because We are), how were you taught to understand this in a tangible act of daily living?

    Babarinde: When I was in school I was taught how to create a beaded bracelet or necklace. The bead did not exist unto itself, but was strung to create a strand or a beaded object that had unity and oneness.

    A. Explanation of the importance of beading and beadwork in Yoruba Culture:
    When threaded together, beads stand for unity, togetherness and solidarity. Like the wrapped bundle of "atoori" (wooden sticks) on an ancestral altar symbolizing family cohesiveness, beads symbolize generation and regeneration.
    Encircling parts of the body (i.e. head, neck arms, wrists, waist, legs, ankles, toes), beads literally and symbolically "tie up", seal in, protect, and enclose unseen forces that make up the inner, spiritual essence of persons and things. (Drewal and Mason, p.17.)

    The act of stringing beads uses a serial, repetitive action in a step-by-step fashion, by adding one bead on to another to create a unique synergy-an object that is more than the sum of its parts. This repetitive, rhythmic process is often described as meditative and calming. When one bead is added to another-whether in the design of a necklace or other beaded object-the composition becomes a metaphor for unity, togetherness and oneness.

    Beads in the Yoruba culture are equated with one of the most precious possessions-children. "A number of key concepts-temperament, empowerment, protection, potentiality, desire wealth and well-being-are associated with beads." (Drewal and Mason, p.17.)

    B. Importance of Color in Yoruba beads and beadwork:
    A range of sacred colors and beaded forms make up the motifs in Yoruba beaded, ritual objects. The orange, red pink and yellow tones belong to the color group known as Pupa, which refers to warm or hot tones. The white, silver, pale gray and chrome colored beads belong to the color group known as Funfun, which refers to coolness. Funfun is also associated with age and wisdom. Bridging and mediating the opposite color tones of Pupa (hot) and Funfun (cool) colors are beaded designs that generally include dark, Dudu, shades: blue, purple, green, brown, black and dark gray. Thus, bead colors are grouped according to human temperaments in the Yoruba culture. This evokes not only a cognitive response to the sight of color, but also a sensory response of feeling. (Drewal and Mason, p.18.)

    Student Activity:
    To understand color meaning in Yoruba culture:
    Ask the students to imagine being outside with nature.

    1. What are the hot colors: red, orange, yellow that we see in the sun. How do we feel when we are under the hot sun?
    2. What are the cool colors: light blue sky, light green trees and grass, white clouds. How do we feel when we lay in the grass under a light blue sky with big puffy white clouds?
    3. What colors are in between shades of color: the deep blues, greens, purples, black and brown.
    "The understanding of color association with human temperament has a huge implication of understanding the visual impact of Yoruba beadwork: defining and revealing the nature, character or personality of things, persons and divinities. Funfun, pupa and dudu serve as visual warnings of forces and actions in the world for which one must be prepared." (Drewal and Mason, p.18.)

    Student Activity:
    To interpret the significance and meaning of a Yoruba beaded object incorporating the color concepts.

    Yoruba Beaded Crown

    Ask the students to look at the image of the cone shaped Yoruba crown. Ask them what the motifs, colors and shape of the crown mean. Begin with these inquiry questions first:

    • What do you think this object is?
      It is a King or Queen's crown.
    • What culture do you think this object come from?
      The Yoruba of Nigeria.
    • Who do you think might wear this object?
      Only a ruler of the village or the priests can wear sacred beaded objects. The beaded clothing and necklaces immediately identify him/her as a very important person.
    • Why do you think this object is important?
      Because it contains a "Life Force". When the king or queen leave the village, the crown remains on the king's throne to protect the village.
    • Why do you think the shape of this object is important?
      The Yoruba believe the head is the container of the soul and the center of intelligence and moral strength. All of these qualities are protected inside the cone shaped crown. There are other shapes of crowns, but this is the most important.
    • What images do the students see on the object?
      Faces, a bird, diamond motifs and zigzag lines at the top of the crown.
      • The faces are representational of ancestors, spirit guides, or a diviner. They exist on the hat as metaphors for persons of wisdom conveying information to the king about how to best meet the needs of the village and its inhabitants.
      • The bird at top (okin) of the crown represents a universal messenger and is found in many cultures. Birds carry information from the earthly world to the heavenly world as intermediators (emissaries) and back again. Each culture whether American Indian or African, has a bird that is indigenous to that part of the world and is sacred or special.
      • The diamonds and zigzag lines can represent the "Life force"; the vital power possessed by the individual wearing or carrying the Yoruba beaded object.
    • What do you think the beaded veil on the crown is for?
      The beaded veil masks the identity of the ruler. Persons are not to look directly at the head of the king because of the powers the ruler possesses.
    • What colors do you see on the object?
      The colors on the crown are both hot and cool. This is necessary to symbolize the wisdom of a king to bring harmony and balance to the community. Note how the hot yellow line of beads outlines the area around the shapes. There is also a face, with colors of hot and cool shades. These are reoccurring motifs in Yoruba beadwork.

    This next image is a Divination bag.

    Yoruba Divination Bag - Utah Museum of Fine Arts

    Diviners, like rulers, mediate forces in the spiritual realm for the benefit of themselves and the community. This bag is used to store the implements needed to conduct a ceremony with a member or members of the village. He/She could also be called a priest.

    Note the hot and cool colors used in harmony and balance for the visual composition of the beaded object. This combination of colors and motifs can be found on many other beaded objects of the Yoruba culture.

    This two-dimensional beaded art by Jimoh Buraimoh from The Bead Museum Collection, 1988, is called Talking Drums.

    Buraimoh comes from a family of artists. His mother, a weaver and dyer, taught her son the powers of color for his beadwork paintings. Buraimoh strings beads to outline the design elements in his paintings filling in areas with loose beads to make tints and shades that suggest three -dimensional form and space. The themes for his artworks come from Yoruba traditions and his interest in humanity. (Drewal and Mason, p.81-83.)

    Please have the students view all three of Buraimoh's artworks presented in this lesson plan. As a contemporary bead artist Buraimoh is utilizing traditional subject matter and the use of beads to bring the painting alive with emotions and meaning honoring the stories of the community.

    Before the lesson plan continues, with the art-making activity, it may be necessary to review concepts of learning that have been examined, explored and discussed in the lesson plan to this point.

    Students demonstrate an ability to:

    1. discuss the concept that contemporary Nigerian artists still create art with the traditional materials of wood and beads.
    2. Recognize the cultural and historical significance of Yoruba art and the concept of "Life Force" (art history).
    3. Recognize that art is a form of communication and identify certain symbols and colors in Yoruba art that aid in interpretation or suggest possible meanings (i.e., beads, wood, colors, motifs, and shapes).

    Click here to go to the art making activity for this lesson