Thursday, November 19, 2009

Animals in African Folk Art

Crocodile made of recycled bug spray can, South Africa.
Folk art in its broadest sense means art derived from a people, or folk, as distinguished from the products of professional artists. A brief description of folk art is that it comes from groups of people who live within the general framework of a developed society but who are, for reasons of geographical or cultural isolation, largely cut off from the more advanced artistic productions of their time. It is the art of peasants, shepherds, sailors fisherfolks, artisans, and small trades people who live away from cultural urban centers in nations that are not heavily industrialized. Folk art is art that is produced by people who are not formally educated in art. They generally use materials that are common in everyday life. Folk artists create for the sake of creating something. In Africa, there are many folk artists. African folk art is usually created with household objects, metal objects, toys, textiles, masks, wood sculpture and more. The images that I have here are images of small sculptures that were made in South Africa of recycled products.

Cow made of recycled plastic bottle tops and can, South Africa

Most of the African folk art I have seen is bright, vibrant and full of life. Their art is reflecting their life. Most artists commonly use Coca Cola products too because of the life support they have provided for people in African countries. It is the art of expression and they make little products that they desire or want to have. It is kind of the spirit of wishful thinking.

Information from:

Images are from:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Four Animals of the Four Quadrants of the Heavens

The Han Dynasty Chinese cosmologists distinguished Four Creatures of the World and since then have become deeply rooted in Chinese mythology. These animals are the Blue Dragon, White Tiger, Red Bird(Phoenix), and the Black Tortoise. Each creature represents one of the four world directions, seasons, and "elements". Sometimes there are five animals because every once in a while the snake will be depicted with the Black Tortoise.

The Blue Dragon:
The Blue Dragon is the corresponding guardian of the East. It is also the emblem of spring, the color blue/green and the element wood. The dragon also controls rain. The dragon is often depicted with the Red Bird also known as the Phoenix. This pairing is the symbol of the imperial spouses (Dragon representing the emperor and the Phoenix is the embodiment the empresses) because of the symbolic personification of conflict and wedded bliss.

The Red Bird (Phoenix):
The Red Bird is the directional guardian of the South. It is symbolic representation of the season Summer, the color red, the element of fire and the virtue of knowledge. The Red Bird also had to the power to make seeds grow into large trees. It appears only in times of good fortune singing its enchanting song.

The Black Tortoise:
The Black Tortoise is the figure of the North. It is also the symbol of the season winter, the color black, and the element water. It is also the embodiment of longevity, wisdom, and faith. It is often depicted with the snake because it is believed that their union engendered the universe.

The White Tiger:
The White Tiger is the symbol of the West. It is also the emblem of the season fall, the color white, the element metal, the wind, and the virtues of righteousness and observation. The Tiger is also the motif of a protector. The Chinese considered the Tiger the king of all the animals and lord of the mountains. It is also known as the Chinese god of war.


Schumacher, Mark. "Four Guardians of the Four Compass Directions." Onmark Productions. Mark Schumacher. Web. 15 Nov. 2009. .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blackfoot Tribe Narrative Story

All American Indian Tribes have different takes on the the creation/origin story. Some are similar while others are quite different. Most American Indian Narratives were painted on to leather or weaved into a blanket like the example below.

The Hopi Tribe Origin Story Narrated on Leather

Unfortunately, I was unable to find one for one of the Blackfoot tribe origin story is How Napi (the Old Man) and A-pe'si (Coyote) Made People. To read the full version of the story please click the link above.

Old Man (Napi or Na-pe)

In this origin story, the Blackfoot tell how Old Man (Napi or Na-pe) created men out of clay bones, Buffalo blood, tendons, skin, and fat and clay. As Old Man created the bones for the men, he found some that he had made that were broken, crooked, or too small. So he discarded all the bad bones into a pile outside his lodge and just left them there while he and the men enjoyed smoking and hunting. Then one day A-pe'si (Coyote) came along and told Old Man that he should make more men out of the pile of discarded bones because the men that Old Man had already made were poor handiwork. Old Man and Coyote worked together but when the "men" were done they did not look like the other men that Old Man created. Old Man figured it had something to with A-pe'si interrupting him as he was creating them. Old Man breathe smoke into the "men" faces and when they came a life they began to talk amongst themselves. Old Man named them women. This was how Man and Woman were made.

"Native Languages of the Americas: Blackfeet Indian Legends and Traditional Stories." Native Languages of the Americas. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. .


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Narrative in Art

The Two Fridas by Frida Kahlo, a painting displaying her idea of her marriage.

When I hear the word narrative I instantly think of the imagery in a painting or piece that clearly tells a personal story. And when I think of very personal, depressing stories I think of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo portrayed many aspects of her life in her art. She lived a very hard and painful life. When she was younger she was a victim in a terrible bus crash which left her debilitated for life. In the wreck a metal poled stabbed through her body, breaking the back and severing many organs. Her reproductive organs were most effected by the trauma, which she had issues with through life because she could never have children.
A Frida Kahlo painting that portrays her emotional struggle with her miscarriage.

All of her paintings are very morbid, but truthful. She displays her life to the best of her ability no matter how graphic or gruesome it is. She is a very respected Mexican artist, as well as her husband, Diego Rivera.

Images from:

Adornment of Ta Moko

Western water-color painting of Ta Moko on a Maori man.

Ta Moko is the adornment of designs in ink on the Maori of New Zealand faces. The designs on their faces are the story of their life on their face. The signature of their name comes from this design. The Maori sign legal documents with this design. These markings are also the symbols of their social status and family history. Each person has their own unique Maori.
Interpretation of Ta Moko in Western culture, usually called "tribal"

I do have tattoos of my own and got them for my own personal reasons. After learning about the Maori's Ta Moko, I find it very offensive for a person of Western culture to get a ignorant knock off of the Ta Moko, which is usually referred to as "tribal" tattoos. It is offensive because the Ta Moko is personal and historical to the person who adorns them, and people who generally receive a tribal tattoo are ill-educated about the subject and the real meaning of tattoos like that.

Ta Moko is the art of life engraved into the skin of the Maori who wear every curve, line, or design with deep pride.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Body Adornments of the Surma

The Surma are a pastoral people from Ethiopia. They have several forms of body adornment that they practice. These adornments range from gauging the ears to exceptionally detailed face and body painting. One of the more extreme forms of body adornment practiced by the Surmas is body scarification which is a process by which tiny cuts are used to etch designs and patterns into the skin and as the cuts begin to scar the designs become a permanent feature of the skin Another unusual adornment custom is lip plates or lip plugs that are done mainly by the women of the Surmas. Women insert large clay plates into their bottom lips. The larger the plate the more desirable the woman and the higher her dowry is.

An example of scarification.

A young Surma woman with a lip plate and gauged earlobes.

"Body Art: A Means for Self Expression." African Conservancy. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. .
Os, Joseph V. "Vanishing Cultures of Ethiopia's Omo Valley." Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. .