• George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, c. 1779. Charles Willson Peale. Oil on canvas; 51-9/16 x 47-13/16 in. Membership Income Fund 1917.946
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African Art: Secular and Supernatural

Grade Level: 
7–12
Student Level: 
High School

Compare ritual and royal objects from the Yoruba and Edo peoples of Nigeria to learn how their rulers maintain worldly authority with the assistance of supernatural forces. Students will delight in examining a colorful beaded crown that empowers a Yoruba ruler and a 300-year-old bronze sculpture that establishes legitimacy for an Edo king. These and other stunning objects introduce divination, mythology, and communication with ancestors to your class.

Program Format: 
  • Open with discussion on difference between supernatural and secular power.
  • Introduce sculptures and explain historical/cultural significance.
  • Compare and contrast Yoruba and Benin cultures.
  • Ask students how Americans honor historical figures.
  • Answer remaining questions.
Objectives: 
  • Students will learn the similarities as well as differences among the Yoruba and Benin peoples-particularly in regards to attaining political power-which are reflected in their works of art.
  • Students will understand that secular power in both the Yoruba and Benin cultures is acquired and maintained through access to supernatural power.
  • Students will create a chart during the program which illustrates how Yoruba and Benin art relate to one of six categories: politics, religion, celebrations, trade, roles/representations of women, artistic styles, or materials.