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Teach with Kente
Donald Locke, Artist
Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta Artist Donald Locke explains how he used kente as a tool for teaching concepts of motion and design in the studio art classroom in his native Guyana (excerpted from an interview with Shelley Stevens, April 23, 2001):

As an artist and as a teacher, one of the cornerstones of my philosophy is presenting students with first hand experiences to work from. You write best about what you know best. As a teacher in a class activity based on a first-hand experience, you excite them, you set them on fire, you create a kind of a holy tension in their creative imagination. It works every time. There is something about us as human beings when we get that excitement going.

When this lady said that she had a kente cloth which she had bought in Ghana when she was teaching at the University there, I said, "Really? Can I borrow it?" She said "Yes, sure." The next day this kente cloth appeared in the staff room. She put it on my desk and I knew now I had something.

So the students know they're going to see something exciting to paint. I said, Ready? Okay, back in a minute, and went around behind the screen. I put on this kente cloth, just wrapped it around my shirt and trousers. And I stepped out through that screen -- maybe like I'm a chief. In this class you are told you are going to see what you are going to paint. You are going to see a strong powerful impression in that kente. [During the interview Don Locke spins around imitating a swishing sound and motion] So I would walk up, and when I did that this whole 6-foot sweep of color, blazing color went all over the place, little tiny pieces of color. I circled the class with it then I stood like this, so they would know to begin, because I'm posing now. After they got into that, I quietly stepped away, quietly slipped away.

The wonderful thing is that because it's the eye of the child, a lot of translation is going on. Some boys did small tiny squares of yellow and orange and red; some boys saw the stripes come down; some saw it as broken horizontals. But of course you know no two eyes record the same thing. I used that kente cloth for about two weeks, maybe three weeks. Because the color is so much and the image is so dazzling that once you start to paint, an hour later you're still working.

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