Children love tactile learning experiences. Using art to teach children about a culture gives them an opportunity to take new knowledge and make something of their own out of it, cementing important concepts in their minds. Nigerian art is a great candidate for this type of study.
Nigerian art traditions date back over 2,000 years. Ancient Nigerian artists mastered techniques and natural representation of human proportions. As a result, ancient Nigeria is to Africa what ancient Greece is to the Western world.
Sculptures make up the majority of early Nigerian art. Fibre arts also played a role in ancient Nigerian society. More contemporary Nigerian artists work in these media as well as paint. Today several university-level arts programs offer Nigerian artists opportunities for formal study.
Nigerian Nok Terra is the oldest known art in Africa south of the Sahara. After showing children examples of these African clay figures, provide terra-cotta clay or terra-cotta-coloured oven-bake clay for them to make their own figures. Keep clay about a quarter of an inch thick to avoid damage in kiln firing or baking. Let the children use toothpicks or clay tools to etch detail into their sculptures. For very young children, try starting with a ball of clay. Flatten it into a slab and have them draw their figures in the clay. Make a small hole at the top so that the baked artwork can hang on walls or necklaces.
Bronze Nigerian Ife heads use very natural facial proportions and expressions. Have children view images of these art pieces and compare them to images from ancient Greek sculpture. Then reinforce the lesson by letting children create their own Ife heads. Start with newspaper. Wad it into a head-sized ball. Use masking tape to secure the shape of the newspaper. Add smaller wads of newspaper with masking tape to form the neck, nose, eyebrows and lips. Use strips of plaster of Paris over the newspaper head. Allow the plaster to dry and have children press aluminium foil over the surface. For an alternative finish, use metallic spray paint.
Benin Relief Sculpture
Benin art incorporates animal images into bronze sculpture. Have children view Benin masks and relief sculptures. Discuss the difference between relief sculptures and freestanding sculptures. Slice blocks of florist foam in half lengthwise for children to create relief sculptures. Have the children draw their design on paper first. Then provide them with plastic carving tools to cut into this soft surface. You may want to provide face masks to prevent the children from breathing small foam pieces.
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