Seventh Grade Presentation
Monday, October 27, 2014

[ Welcome ]

Jambo < >
Hello = Jambo
How are you? = Habari gani
Very fine = Nzuri sana
Thank you very much = Asante sana
You're welcome = Karibu

Art in Africa is meant to be seen, used, and carried, as part of daily life and spiritual practices;
unlike art in the West, it does not hang on museum walls behind a "do not touch sign."
African art gains power by "add-ons" such as feathers, wood, cowrie shells, nails, etc.
African art provides a window into African culture; an outsider can gain insights into
the culture by "reading" the artifact.

Let's examine the figure below and see what it reveals

This carved, wooden female figure presents a definition of female beauty and female virtues. She stands tall and sturdy, indicating her moral uprightness; her open eyes and high forehead reflect her intelligence and clear vision. She holds her hands at her side indicating respect, obedience, and good character. Her body is robust and healthy; her neck is strong for supporting the heavy loads she must carry on her head. She does not wear a headdress or have a fancy hairstyle so she can carry water on her head. Her calves are strong, enabling her to work hard; her pointed breasts and round buttocks signify fertility and potential motherhood.

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What are the 9 female characteristics valued in this West African society?

The figures below are elite women. How can you tell?
Pay special attention to the figure on the right; what is she wearing?
How is she similar to/different from the figure above?
Look carefully at her face--what do you notice?

image source right < >
image source left < >

These are examples of scarification or body art, often also reproduced on African masks and figures. These women demonstrated both bravery and enhancement of their physical beauty in their elaborate body decoration, usually completed during a rite of passage such as the onset of maturity, readiness for marriage.

Scarification may seem odd to you in 21st century Silicon Valley. Look at Colin Kapernick's body art; it is typical of a kind of rite of passage that many American athletes go through. I imagine most of you have pierced ears. Do you think it's odd to have, say, a nose pierce? an eyebrow pierce? other?


In the West, royal thrones are important symbols of authority. The 18th century Russian imperial throne to your left is beautiful, ornate, and covered with gold to signify the wealth, prestige, and power of the Russian state and the empress who sat on it.

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The stool to your right comes from Cameroon in West Africa. The animal is a stylized buffalo, an animal associated with fearsome power. The exaggerated horns emphasize that power. The stool was carved from a single piece of wood, according to custom. Seated on his throne, "...the king embodies political power and ritual authority along with strength and leadership visually reinforced by the image of the buffalo." Similar to but different from the Russian throne above.

Western society values motherhood and childrearing. This Raphael painting of the Madonna and Child tells its own story of the special bond between the mother and her baby. If you are Roman Catholic, you can "read" this painting: you know it's the Virgin because of her blue cloak and the way she cradles baby Jesus. All African societies acknowledged the special importance of child bearing and child rearing.

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This maternity figure from DRC reflects the values of the society that produced it and its point of view towards women. It conforms to accepted notions of beauty. Notice the figure's large feet (sturdy/able to work) and large head with its high forehead (intelligence/will power); her powerful calves also indicate her ability to work. The scarification and headdress indicate her rank and status. The statue is a powerful religious artifact that calls out to the spirits to protect pregnant women and look out for the health of their children.

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With Halloween coming up, I thought it would be interesting to spend a little
bit of time talking about African masks. Are you going to wear a mask? Why?
African masks are worn usually exclusively by men in ceremonies having
to do with planting and the harvest. Masks figure prominently in ceremonies, rituals,
celebrations, and in festivals marking rites of passage.
Sometimes masks are worn to ward off evil spirits or to placate the gods.
Look at the two below: what gives them their power?

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image source right <>
Some masks are worn on top of the head.

Here is a close-up example of the chiwara "headcrest mask"worn on top of the head. The highly stylized carved wooden antelope/aardvark headcrest mask/headdress is worn--with its female partner (worn or danced by a man)--during "seasonal celebrations of planting and harvesting" as the young men replicate in their dance the mythical creature pounding seeds into the soil. The dancer attaches the headdress to a cap, and adds long flowing strips of raffia to his waist, enveloping and obscuring his body. The dancer becomes the creature or the spirit of the creature in rituals and ceremonies associated with agriculture (TCI 42).

This chiwara headcrest mask unites the real world of planting, farming, reaping with the spirit world. The long horns symbolize hope for tall millet (grain) and a rich harvest. The long pointed nose of the chiwara represents the aardvark/antelope digging in the soil. The mask (right) is female, represented by the baby antelope on her back.The chiwara headdress "illustrates how African artists clothe invisible ideas and forces with visible form, creating magical works of art that convey messages and inspire the spirit" (Woodward 66).

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Chiwara Dance recorded in the 1960s < >