Website Review

Art and Life in Africa

The content on Art and Life in Africa is primarily the work and scholarship of Christopher D. Roy, Professor of Art History at the University of Iowa. There are rich materials on children, although finding them requires some creative searching.

The site design is not as elegantly organized or aesthetically pleasing as the rich content warrants. There are many broken links, such as the one to the Stanley Collection database. The link to a teacher's forum is also broken. Links to other sites do function.

What the site lacks in quality, however, it makes up in quantity of information. This includes photographs and videos that illustrate the landscape, arts, craft production, and everyday life of a wide variety of groups in the region and more than 60 streaming videos of craft production, dancing, singing and mask performances.

The site includes most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, which are designated on the map in black lettering. A database lists the names of 107 "peoples" (as the site designates these ethnic, clan, or tribal groups) in Africa. Each name links to a chart with information, a map of the territory, and sometimes the multiple countries they inhabit.

Materials on children appear throughout the site, but are not easy to find. The design includes an ALA search engine found only at the bottom of the index pageā€”not on the home page. There is no easy way to navigate among sections of the site. Keyword searches such as "child," "girl," and "boy" yield only two general links, so the search engine apparently excludes a lot of site content. The keyword "doll," for example, which is found in at least a dozen articles, photo captions, and artworks, only returned the main website link.

The best strategy, then, is to browse the site looking in likely places. The beautiful and interesting pictures make this rewarding time spent. Key Moments in Life describes the stages from birth to initiation, marriage, old age and death, including both males and females, using photographs and art. Each is discussed in a paragraph with citation information.

A streaming video shows uninitiated boys in Boni and Lollio making masks out of millet stalks in imitation of the adults' elaborate masks. They play music, weave elaborate masks, and clown for the camera; in the evening they take part in the procession and dance. Watching this video is as interesting for the skill and intensity the boys bring to the process, as for the other children, both boys and girls, who mill around at the performance.

Many of the other videos and photos allow the viewer to catch glimpses of babies wrapped onto their mother's backs and of children and youth participating in daily activities or special occasions. A number of articles by Roy include information about children, the best example being the article on Mossi dolls. The article describes wooden figurines carved by blacksmiths for little girls that simultaneously fulfill the function of babies (biiga) for young caregivers as well as adult female role models.

This project is testament to a lifetime of work among people for whom the scholar Roy had great affection, and into whose lives he was able to gather deep insight. The materials here are based on a CD-ROM of the same name that is available for purchase on the site, but increasingly the CD content is available online.

How to Cite This Source

"Art and Life in Africa ," in Children and Youth in History, Item #444, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/website-reviews/444 (accessed July 30, 2014).

There are rich materials on children, although finding them requires some creative searching.