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Colour symbolism

Module by: Siyavula Uploaders. E-mail the author

ARTS AND CULTURE

Grade 8

PERSONAL AND SOCIAL SKILLS

Module 1

COLOUR SYMBOLISM

VISUAL ARTS

Introductory activity (group work)

Colour symbolism (example: Zulu love letter)

Colour has a multitude of symbolic meanings and various cultural groups attach different values to different colours. Many years ago a type of communication that was based on specific colour values, came into use in South Africa. It was something in the line of a colour dictionary and was originated with glass beads in different colours that were distributed in the former Zululand from a Portuguese trading station in Delagoa Bay (Port Elizabeth). Later European dealers who settled there continued this trade in beads. When young Zulu men left their homes to work on far away farms and in towns, their sweethearts who were left behind and knew nothing about writing letters, had to develop a system that did not rely on writing to communicate with them. This led to the development of the Zulu love letter. At the beginning, different beads were merely strung together and ‘read’ from top to bottom. Later the string of beads was converted to a decorative square and the message of the beads was ‘read’ from the outside to the inside.

This therefore is where the idea of a ‘dictionary’ comes in: each colour having a meaning. Meanings differed from area to area, but generally were very similar.

Some of the well-known and general meanings are provided below. (An example of such a love letter is also included):

  • RED: intense love (my heart bleeds for you)
  • BLACK: sorrow / loneliness / disappointment (‘my heart has become as black as the rafters of the roof, as I hear you have another maiden’)
  • GREEN: jealousy / love-sickness (‘I have become as thin as a blade of new grass from pining for you’)
  • TRANSPARENT: doubt / uncertainty (‘you are like the grasshopper, springing from bush to bush’)
  • BLUE: hope / calmness / faithfulness (‘if I were a dove, I would fly the endless skies to you’)
  • WHITE: purity / faithfulness / peace / true love

An example of a Zulu love letter:

Figure 1
Figure 1 (Picture 1.png)

Examine the Zulu love letter above, as well as the meanings that the Zulu people attached to the colours, and discuss it in the group. Try to decide, as a group, what the letter tries to communicate. Remember that it should be read from outside to inside!

Share your opinions with the rest of the class.

While the other groups are sharing their opinions with the class, you may assess them according to the guidelines in the following assessment grid:

Table 1
         
  LO 3.4      
         

Homework Assignment

Below is an example of a colour value chart. Talk to your family or to people in your community or environment to find out which particular values they attach to these colours and use the chart for summing up the information that you get:

Table 2
COLOUR POSITIVE VALUE NEGATIVE VALUE
Black    
Blue    
Green    
White    
Red    
Table 3
         
  LO 3.2      

Activity 1 (Individual)

Name-based design :

  • For this activity you will use your own name in a design. You begin by choosing or designing a letter type (typography) that suits your personality.
  • Take a look at the different ways in which the letter ‘L’ has been written. Experiment with a number of letter types before selecting a particular type to use for your own name. Be sure that it suits your personality!

Figure 2
Figure 2 (Picture 2.png)

Cheerful

Figure 3
Figure 3 (Picture 3.png)

Formal

Figure 4
Figure 4 (Picture 4.png)

Sad

Figure 5
Figure 5 (Picture 5.png)

Pleasant

Figure 6
Figure 6 (Picture 6.png)

Tense

  • Use the letter type that you have selected and write your whole name.
  • Use oil pastels to apply colour to your designed name. Also make use of tone values (light and dark) and textures to add interest to the letters. (The colours that you use for the design must also be chosen according to your personality.) We regard this as arbitrary use of colour, i.e. the colour is chosen and used according to its emotional value. The sun, for example, does not have to be yellow, but could be blue-purple to suggest a sombre mood.

Assessment

Table 4
Learning Outcomes(LOs)
 
LO 3
participation and cooperationThe learner is able to display personal and social skills while participating in arts and culture activities as an individual and in a group.
 
Assessment Standards(ASs)
 
This is demonstrated when the learner:
GENERAL
3.1 shows entrepreneurial skills in marketing artworks;
3.2 keeps to the time schedule through management and self-discipline;
3.3 investigates career options in arts and culture;
3.4 collaborates to:3.4.1 co-operates with other members of the group during art activities;
3.4.2 shows the ability to make a personal contribution within the context of the group;
VISUAL ARTS3.8 does research with regard to the arts and shares information with other learners;
 
MUSIC3.7 is able to do research on the emotional aspects of music;
DRAMA3.6 is able to apply research on informal theatre;
DANCE/MOVEMENT3.5 is able to do research on career possibilities in dance and share the information.

Memorandum

Activity 1 (individual)

  • In this activity the learners use their own names to represent their personalities symbolically by means of the colour and of letter type (font).
  • They must develop a name design to fit their personalities.
  • Let learners experiment with a number of fonts/letter types until they find one that fits their personality. This must then be used to write out their whole name. The colours that they use for the design of the name must also be chosen according to their personality. We regard this as arbitrary use of colour, i.e. the colour is chosen and used in terms of emotional value. The sun, for example, could be blue-purple instead of yellow to indicate a sombre mood.
  • Also remind the learners of graffiti, in which ‘tagging’ refers to a name written in graffiti style as a personal mark or stamp.

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