Expressing the Inner Life of Things

Lesson Plan

Lesson

Students will discover how materials can be reused to create new works of art and will describe how Spiritual Messenger exhibits both realistic and expressive characteristics. They will compare Nnaggenda’s work to that of Picasso (who was greatly influenced by African art). Students will create a sculpture using an assortment of found objects and will write a poem from their sculpture’s perspective.

Intended Age Group

Secondary (grades 6-12)

Length of Lesson

Two 45 minute lessons

Standards Area

Visual Arts

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • explain how Spiritual Messenger exhibits both realistic and expressive characteristics;
  • brainstorm new uses for materials that might otherwise have been discarded;
  • work collaboratively with others to create a sculpture; and
  • write a poem that complements the theme or message of their sculpture.

Lesson

  1. Display the image of Spiritual Messenger and allow students to look and share observations.
  2. Share Francis Nnaggenda’s comment with the class: “People tell me my work looks like Picasso, but they have it wrong. It is Picasso who looks like me, like Africa.” Show a couple of Pablo Picasso’s works to the class and discuss how Picasso’s work and Nnaggenda’s work (or the work of other African artists) are similar and how they are different.
  3. Read another quotation from Nnaggenda: “My figure and forms are not mere imitations of nature. I am more interested in the inner life of things, and sometimes as well in the combination of the two-the likeness and the distortion.” Ask students to describe how Spiritual Messenger exhibits both realistic and expressive characteristics. Ask questions such as: How is the sculpture an imitation of the human form? What characteristics are distorted? Why do you think Nnaggenda distorted certain characteristics and not others?
  4. Gather an assortment of found objects and have students work individually or in pairs to create a masterpiece sculpture from the found objects. Encourage students to express the “inner life of things” via their artwork.
  5. Have students create a poem written from their sculpture’s perspective. Use prompt questions such as:
  • What emotions or message is your sculpture trying to express?
  • What would your sculpture say about you, your classroom, your neighborhood?
  • What would your sculpture think about the materials it is made from?

Materials

  • Assortment of found objects (e.g. clean food containers, bottle caps, computer parts)(A great source for found materials in Denver is Resource Area for Teaching
  • Lined paper and pen/pencil for each student
  • Printed copies of a few Pablo Picasso paintings, or the ability to project images onto a wall or screen The following websites may be useful:
  • About the Art section on Spiritual Messenger
  • One color copy of the sculpture for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen

Standards

CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Spiritual Messenger

Spiritual Messenger

1970s

Francis Nnaggenda, Uganda

Who Made It?

Francis Nnaggenda was born in 1936 and raised in central Uganda. Exiled from Uganda under the dictator Idi Amin, Nnaggenda received his formal artistic education in Germany and France beginning in the 1960s. He studied, taught, and worked in the US, Europe, and other parts of Africa before returning to Uganda in 1978 at the end of Amin's dictatorship. Nnaggenda has a variety of artistic talents-he is a sculptor, painter, and poet. He combines techniques he's learned around the world with traditions from Africa. "People tell me my work looks like Picasso, but they have it wrong. It is Picasso who looks like me, like Africa," he says. When asked in an interview when he knew he wanted to become an artist, Nnaggenda spoke of his childhood and his family. His mother and grandmother would tell him stories and sing to him, and he would create images after hearing those stories. "All children play with anything available," said Nnaggenda. "From the soft clay pushed up and out of the tops of anthills, I modeled. Flowers when smeared on certain surfaces left colours, but it was in primary school that I first came across pen, pencil, and paper. Drawing was taught and I took to decorating the pages I worked on."

What Inspired It?

Nnaggenda often uses recycled materials to create artworks; for this sculpture he used recycled car parts. He looks for materials in the world around him, taking objects he finds and transforming them into something new. His passion for found objects may reflect his interest in exploring “the inner life of things.” In reference to the human form he says, “I find myself closer to the human beings because they influence me more than anything else. I am a human being expressing human experiences. But again my interpretation of human beings is inseparable from their surroundings. My figures and forms are not mere imitations of nature. I am more interested in the inner life of things.” Nnaggenda illustrates this idea in one of his poems:

The dead are not under the earth

They are in the tree that rustles

They are in the woods that groan

They are in the water that runs…

Those who are dead are not gone

They are in the child wailing and in the fire that flames…

When my ancestors talk about the Creator, they say:

He is with us…We sleep with him.

We hunt with him…We dance with him.

Details

Human Figure
Human Figure

Nnaggenda’s sculpture is of an abstract standing human figure with bulging eyes and mouth open in the shape of an “O.” Its right arm folds in front, and its hand stretches towards its face.

Metal
Metal

Nnaggenda welded recycled chunks of metal and old car parts to create a new form. In his artwork, he incorporates found objects, hints of paint, and jagged textures. Nnaggenda does not always build his sculptures out of metal. He also uses wood, stone, bronze, and other media.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.