AP Literature MISO (Media, Interview, Survey, Observation) Venture
Congolese Art & Collage
by Kelly W., Lena H., Claire H., and Kaitlyn T.
Gathered together by our love for art, we embarked on a journey to answer the question: how has Congolese art changed over time, and what is being done to preserve it today? This question emerged as part of an investigation we were doing in AP Lit class after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. As we interviewed teachers and surveyed our peers, we came to realize that the majority of our community did not know or understand much about African art; however, most agreed that art and culture were essential to building our perspectives as global citizens and that art and culture serve critical roles in conveying historical narratives.
In order to glean consensus on the importance of art, and African art in particular, we began by conducting a short survey. Most respondents admitted that they knew little about African art; however, many respondents expressed that they would like to learn more about African art if given the chance. Of those, 62% preferred to learn through hands-on experiences such as art-making workshops.
From there, we began to work with the idea of creating a lesson about Congolese art for a middle school audience, and we decided that creating collages might provide a good foundation for a hands-on approach.
Mr. David Lyon, a Concordia grade 6 art teacher, welcomed us into his classroom to teach two classes. We began each class by asking the students about their current knowledge of Africa. A majority of students named things like “deserts”, “nature”, and “giraffes” as things they associate with the continent of Africa.
After this opening activity, we gave a brief presentation on Congolese history and art, displaying famous sculptures, and explaining the effects of colonialism on modern Congolese culture. We also introduced the basics of collage.
Then came the collage session. As we passed out printed photos of Congolese contemporary art, magazines, and old picture books, the students eagerly gathered scissors and glue sticks. Then, we divided the class into smaller groups, giving each a piece of paper and tasked with a different story to tell.
As we walked around, we saw a variety of interpretations unfold. One group decided to focus on a single piece of artwork, building upon the figure with cutouts of flowers and hands. Other groups chose to piece together fragments from a collection of pieces. Finally, we concluded the class with a small quiz to gauge how much information the sixth graders retained. (Thankfully, they remembered almost all of what we taught them!)
To evaluate our effectiveness, we asked the students to complete a short survey. The responses to the last question in our survey (asking students to name the most important thing they learned in our lesson) were varied. Here are some highlights:
“The most interesting thing that I learned was that the Belgians cut off the hands of the Congolese.”
“I learned to make art with creativity. And I learned that art also has to do with history, and ancient things.”
“The most interesting part is cutting out the paper and stick them on the ancient Congo item pictures.”
“The most interesting thing I learned was when they talked about how the European people smashed all the different tribes together and made them do what they told them to do.”
“That the Congo has more than 250 dialects spoken.”
Our hope for the future is that we can continue to learn and share our understanding of African art with the Concordia community. The annual year-end Explorations classes for ninth and tenth graders might present a great opportunity to incorporate hands-on workshops; furthermore, we also hope for the addition of African art to the syllabus and coursework of our art classes.
Our school community values deeper learning and cultural diversity, and we want to help Concordia students gain an appreciation for different cultures, histories, and art forms.
Kelly, Lena, Claire, and Kaitlyn are senior students taking AP Literature & Composition at Concordia International School Shanghai.