I am a second-grade teacher of Black children in an urban public school, and I am concerned to introduce my students to the notion of community awareness in a way that will open their eyes to new possibilities of discussing their own experience. In my curriculum-unit, entitled “Colors, Shapes, and Spaces in the Most Important Places,” we will examine some of the most elementary features of symbolic meaning in their immediate environment (i.e., the neighborhood and the classroom). One of the most significant places in many of my students’ lives is the weekly community-center, be it the neighborhood church or,—an ever more common phenomenon in Black urban neighborhoods in America, which I would like to focus on—the mosque, or place of gathering for prayer or meeting.
A primary objective will be to help my students to develop a language for analyzing and discussing the significant and decorative elements of the mosque and their classroom
. A study of a simple mosque will provide the occasion for taking a closer look at some of the salient features of Islamic design in general, and, in particular, the arabesque.
I will need to begin my unit with
a brief overview of Islamic religion’s influence on the art and architecture of Muslim peoples
. Despite the great diversity resulting from Islam’s temporal and geographic expanse, we will discover that there is a real unity inherent in Islamic art which can be attributed to a number of significant factors, some related to the faith and some not. We will then move on to a look at
), its origins and basic elements. In this section we will examine the symbolic meaning of some of the colors (green, gold, blue, turquoise), shapes (the dome and minaret), and spaces (the interior space and the orientation of the
) characteristic of mosques. In the third section we will investigate two types of ornamentation typically, but not exclusively, used in mosques: geometric patterns and arabesque designs, analyzing the ways in which they conform to basic principles of ornamentation. This section will culminate, then, in a series of practical art-lessons designed to lead the students right into “that fantastic and charming world, which depends not on nature but on the imagination” (A. Racinet, “Polychromatic Ornament,” 1873, p.B)
My curriculum-unit will form the core component of a second-grade Social Studies program covering a four to 8-week time-period. It will incorporate critical reading, mathematics and art skills.
The objectives of my curriculum-unit will be:
1.) To develop a serviceable language for analyzing and discussing architectural and decorative elements.
2.) To explore the interesting symbolism of colors, shapes and space within a mosque and a classroom.
3.) To instill a better understanding of the concept of design, and, in particular, the role of pattern, symmetry and fancy in Islamic design.
4.) To teach the practical use of such tools as a ruler, circle template, and paintbrush.
5.) To practice observational skills by viewing slides and photo-graphs of Islamic art and architecture.
6.) To provide an opportunity for the appreciation of some of the many contributions Islam has brought to the modern world, especially, of course, in its art.
The unit will be divided into three broad sections:
I—An appreciation of the ways in which Islam influenced the art and architecture of Muslim peoples. (We may focus especially on Egypt). A number of other factors contributing to the unity of Islamic art will also be noticed.
II—An examination of the mosque and its origins, focusing particularly on the symbolic meaning of some of its characteristic color and form-motifs and its use of open spaces.
III—A closer look at two types of Islamic ornamentation: geometric patterns and arabesque designs with the purpose of introducing second-graders to the rigorous, geometric aspects of design and to what might be called the efflorescence of the imagination in the arabesque.