Module Twelve

Introduction to Module Twelve: African Art

Overview: This module will introduce students to the diverse arts created in west and east Africa. The first activity will introduce students to artworks that are filled with symbolic power. Activity two focuses on masking traditions of women's societies in Sierra Leone and will introduce students to the idea that art can 'come alive' when it is incorporated into life changing events. Activity three explores the power and prestige of kente cloth and how its meaning changes when it moves from Ghana to the United States. The work of Ethiopian artist Zerihun Yetmgeta is the subject of the final activity and will allow students to explore issues important to contemporary African artists.

PURPOSE: This module will highlight the visual arts of the African continent, including historical and contemporary developments. Students will be able to explore the rich artistic history of Africa and learn about the different meanings and uses art can serve for individuals and societies in Africa and beyond. Because a survey of all African art is beyond the scope of this module, each activity will focus on specific artists or art traditions. Each activity uses art objects as a springboard into larger discussions of the rich histories, ideas, and lives of people living in Africa. The main objective of this module is to introduce students to the concept that African artists and patrons use artworks to express their ideas and attitudes towards their own culture and the rest of the world. By studying specific art traditions in detail, students will begin to understand that art can have a very different 'life' in Africa than in the West.


  1. To deepen students' understanding of the visual arts of Africa and specific historical and cultural context of different art traditions.
  2. To examine how we can look at art works to learn about people's ideas about beauty, history, authority, politics and religion.
  3. To make students aware of how objects can have diverse and multiple roles and that in many instances they are used in important religious, social or political events, where they 'come alive.'
  4. Allow students to explore the similarities and differences between their cultures and African cultures.

Begin this module with Activity One or choose from one of the other activities in this module.