In 2017 I launched a yearly school project called “Traveling through art.” Each unit was focused on a country and on two or three artists from that country who would become the inspiration for the students’ artworks. That year we “travelled” from South America to North America. Students enjoyed it greatly and learned a lot from all the artists and techniques we explored during that school year.
In 2018, we continued our journey in Europe. We observed, compared and discussed famous and unknown artists.
In 2019, encouraged by my own students who were really excited about continuing our exploration on more exotic lands, I decided we would visit Africa. I must confess I had no previous knowledge about African artists, but perhaps this was the reason why this experience turned out to be incredibly rich, both for my students and for me.
Research on African art / artists
I used internet and social media for my personal research. I am very curious myself, and I managed to contact some artists on Instagram or via email. When I started receiving their answers, I became even more engaged with the project.
In Argentina there are not many African descendants or inhabitants, and therefore the first time I showed my students a video of African artists, they were very surprised. I realised then that my journey would be focused on raising awareness about cultural diversity and on developing empathy and critical thinking, which I consider to be the seeds of peace.
Ghana: Adinkra symbols
Even though the whole yearly project was truly interesting and unforgettable, I will focus here on the unit of Ghana. During my research I had discovered the traditional Adrinkra symbols which represent values, proverbs and wisdom. When I started observing each of them, I realised they represent human values and anyone on Earth could feel related to them.
In class we observed their shapes, discussed their meanings and each kid said which was their favourite symbol. They created their own designs with black tempera on coloured paper, even separating the symbols with the typical lines of the Adinkra designs (painted with a tool that resembles a comb).
The second week, we worked on the adinkra stamps. Ghana artists traditionally create handmade stamps by carving the symbols on pumpkin/squash and they use them to print on fabric. That fabric is then transformed into clothes, scarves and tunics they wear for special occasions.
At home I made my own set of Adinkra stamps, carving the symbols on pumpkin.
In class, I showed my students some real videos of the process of creating the stamps and the ink for printing. Then I showed them the stamps I had made and we prepared the materials for printing: we would print our favourite symbols on banners.
Some kids picked the FRIENDSHIP symbol, some picked the UNITY one, or the PEACE symbol. (I had carved almost 20 different symbols). I divided the class into pairs and they all helped each other to print and hang their banners.
We worked on the adinkra symbols for four weeks, drawing, painting, printing, and even playing in the garden with those symbols (they started incorporating these symbols into their outdoors tick -tack-toes).
While we were working on the symbols, I was exchanging messages with Raphael Adjetei Adjei Mayne, an artist from Ghana who lives in Germany and who incorporates the adinkra symbols in his contemporary mixed media artworks. I told him what we were doing, and he became very interested in our exploration. He explained how he uses the symbols in his artworks and in some T-shirt designs.
Each time I received a message from him, I would tell the kids, who were really excited about this special communication. They said they wanted to ask him questions in English, so I filmed each of them and sent Raphael their questions. He made a video for them with a beautiful message, encouraging them to continue making art and to continue expressing through art, sending them his best wishes from the other side of the world.
At the end of the year, after “visiting” many other countries and learning about other African artists, we celebrated our Art Exhibit, an event where we hang the artworks, invite the families, give away some certificates and watch a video I usually prepare with photos of everything we’ve done during the school year. This time, I had a great surprise for my kids: Raphael’s video. When the kids saw Raphael speaking to them on the screen, they couldn’t believe it! They thought he had travelled to Argentina! They were so happy!
Art provides us with a sense of trust and openness that helps us to be flexible, to be ready to solve problems, to be open to the unexpected. Art helps us to connect with our inner feelings, and with the feelings of the ones who surround us. It helps us to feel part of a community. With this project, we were able to experience this in the literal sense, because not only did we learn about great artists and their art techniques, but we also felt how values like friendship, peace, unity, patience, and tolerance affect us and connect us no matter where we live. I’m sure that if we develop this invisible connection, peace will grow.