In this “discovery lesson” students will use the Yoruba Door Panels to explore the visual arts concepts of symmetry, repetition, clarity of form and line, conceptual proportion, and high relief. Using some of these ideas, students may then create their own two-dimensional door panels to reflect what they value and their own aesthetic style.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 45 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- work with classmates to organize images into patterns and explain the reasoning behind the order of the images;
- describe the meaning of at least one object on the Yoruba Door Panels; and
- define symmetry, repetition, clarity of form and line, conceptual proportion, and high relief.
- Thinking warm-up: Have students get into groups of four. Distribute cards and tell them they are to arrange the cards in any way their group would like; they will share why they arranged the cards the way they did with the class. Record key points of their reasoning on the board or overhead.
- Say that now they are going to work with some less familiar images but will have to perform the same task. Divide them into two groups to determine the pattern and lay out the images you have cut out from the Yoruba Door Panels.
- Once the pieces are placed, lead a discussion about why they placed the objects where they did, writing down key points on the board. Note whether their decisions were based on the types of things (e.g. people, animals), how things look (aesthetics), or both. Compare to key point on their placement of the cards.
- Share the pictures of the actual panels and compare to what the students created. Talk about similarities and differences. While displaying the panels, teach the students about repetition and high relief. Use the About the Art section to guide you during the discussion. You may also talk about different symbols presented on the door panels and pull in background about the artwork.
- If time allows, you may have students draw their own door panels reflective of what they value. Have them pay special attention to repetition.
- One set of shuffled face cards for every three to four students (i.e. Jack, Queen, King for each suit)
- One enlarged, cut-out photocopy of each image on the Yoruba Door Panels (enlarged to about 8” x 3”). The monkeys and snakes will be larger. There are 43 images total. You may want to make two sets if you have more than 20 students.
- A large table or area on the floor to place the cut-out Yoruba Door Panels images
- Pencil and blank paper for each student
- About the Art section on Master of Ikere’s Yoruba Door Panels
- One color photocopy of the panels for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
This door has been attributed to “The Master of Ikerre.” Though there are questions surrounding who exactly this was, we know that the artist was a Yoruba carver active in the early 20th century. The Yoruba people live in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin in Africa. Their artistic tradition is one of the oldest in Africa. It emphasizes the individual artist, allowing artists and craftsmen to use their own unique style while drawing upon conventions from the past. Sculpture is a particularly popular art form in the Yoruba culture.
What Inspired It?
The Yoruba used doors like this one on important buildings such as shrines, royal buildings, or storehouses for valuable goods. While the doors were not meant to invoke a narrative, images carved into the surface can suggest historical moments. Doors were also made to enhance the prestige and status of a shrine dedicated to a Yoruba god, or orisha. There is some speculation that the images on this door reference Yoruba civil wars that raged between the 17th and 19th centuries. Another possibility suggests that the door might have been carved to adorn a temple or shrine dedicated to Olokun, the Yoruba orisha of the sea. No one is exactly sure where, or for whom the door was originally mounted.
The two pieces you see here once formed a single door panel. The DAM acquired one half of the panel in 1973. In the summer of 1979, a visitor to the museum noticed the panel and mentioned that he owned a piece that was similar. Through further correspondence it was established that his piece was the missing half. The museum was fortunate enough to acquire the second half of the door in 1980.
The door is carved in high relief, meaning that the images of human and animal figures project out from the solid surface of the wood.
The images on the door are divided into groups, forming horizontal bands. In each band, the artist used the same figure over and over, rather than carving figures that are distinct from one another.
(top row, left side) Women are the potters in Yoruba society. They make many different types of pottery for practical use, including pots for cooking, eating, and storage. Unique pots are made in honor of Yoruba deities. These women could be carrying the ritual mud pots associated with Olokun.
(top row, right side) These four birds have been described as a type of raptor—a fish eagle. Priests and priestesses carry fish eagle feathers in ceremonies of worship to Olokun.
(both sides) The soldier imagery—including soldiers with bows and arrows, men on horseback, and men with guns—might reference the wars of the 17th and 19th centuries.
(second row, right side) These figures symbolize fertility.
(next to women with babies) These items embody authority associated with Olokun, the king of the sea.
(bottom row, left side) Drummers play throughout ceremonies to Olokun, accompanying praise songs.
(bottom-most snake-like figures, right side) The mudfish is known as Olokun’s “playmate,” and is considered the best sacrifice to Olokun.
(bottom, left side) The python is also a “playmate” of Olokun. He conveys messages from Olokun to his followers, and reminds followers to make sacrifices to Olokun.
(bottom, right side, facing opposite directions) Monkeys are associated with the Yoruba "cult of twins." Here, they may reinforce Olokun’s connection with fertility and childbirth.