A Celebration of African Arts and Culture

Curated by Shepherd Manyika


Improving understanding of African heritage crafts in Milton Keynes Schools.

Partnership working is core to what we do. Since 2019, one partner has been the African Diaspora Foundation (ADF) with whom we have developed a series of projects designed to address the lack of awareness of cultural heritage amongst young people in the city. In 2020 the writer Ngoma Bishop worked with children and young adults to develop poetry exploring both their own heritages and expressions of lockdown. The project led to an exhibition at the African Diaspora Festival in July 2021, which was seen by over 1,000 people. This in turn led to the development of a young people’s curatorial group who, under the guidance of artist Shepherd Manyika, learnt about African culture through workshops with artists Zethu Maseko, Levi Naidu-Mitchell and Uthman Wahaab.

Milton Keynes has a younger population than the national average and a more diverse one with 26.1% in 2019 identifying as black or minority ethnic.
Meet Shepherd Manyika

Shepherd Manyika is a London-based artist-educator whose works take on multiple formats and mediums. Manyika’s practice focuses on reflection as material, utilising music, photographs and aspects of play as a methodology to make space for restoration (repair) and prepare for the future.

He has extensive teaching and workshop experience, delivering programmes with CementFields, Central Saint Martins, TATE, INIVA, South London Gallery, Camden ArtsCentre, Milton Keynes Arts Centre and The Welcome Collection.

Manyika graduated with BA in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2011and MA in Academic Practice in Art, Design and Communication from Central SaintMartins in 2019.

What happened next

The young people with the support of artist Shepherd Manyika, the African Diaspora Foundation and Milton Keynes Arts Centre, researched UK artists demonstrating new and innovative uses of traditional craft techniques in African culture. The young people had the opportunity to meet contemporary artists, to take part in practical workshops and demonstrations of the artists’ processes.

With the artist Uthman Wahaab, the group learnt new drawing techniques inspired by ancestral African art dating as far back as 600 BC: art that influenced many of the twentieth century’s most celebrated western artists, including Pablo Picasso. By taking the group through the drawing process, Wahaab challenged the notion of African art as primitive.

With Levi Naidu-Mitchell, the group were then introduced to the Moko Jumbie: a spirit healer of towering height who is said to have walked across the Atlantic Ocean from West Africa to Trinidad to care for the people there. The story of the Moko was kept alive by colonial slaves in the Caribbean and their descendants. Today, the spirit lives on in carnivals as a stilt walking dancer. Levi Naidu-Mitchell encouraged the group to imagine the real Moko Jumbie by creating giant shoes for him, or her, to wear.

The artist, Zethu Maseko, taught the group how to weave and, through this, examined how the history of weaving could be used to explore the richness and variety of African heritage. Finally, with Shepherd Manyika, the group explored colour and pattern to create both individual and collective artworks inspired by African prints as well as personal photographs, memories and associations.

The group curated an event A Celebration of African Art andCulture at MKAC in December 2021, which attracted an audience of 286 people, of which around 40% were of African heritage. At this event was presented a fair, which included food from across the African continent; an Ethiopian coffee ceremony; African bead making; Moko Jumbie stilt walkers; music; creative artist-led activities and an exhibition of work produced by the children during the project.

An online resource was then co-developed with schools in the city to support teaching in primary schools.

Schools Resource

This school’s resource has three lesson plans looking at contemporary artists and their African Heritage influences, which are aimed at KS2 and KS3. Each session will follow this structure;

1. Exploration of a contemporary artist
2. African cultural heritage influences
3. Creative activity
4. Discussion and reflection National Curriculum

This resource is designed to teach children about African heritage arts influences and how they show up in contemporary art and life. It will help them develop practical art skills as well as discussion and wider thinking skills. Each week there are discussion prompts as well as a look into some specific terminology.

We invite schools to share some of the final week’s research projects with us atMilton Keynes Arts Centre, so these can be added to the resource and shared with schools in MK as a collaborative effort to keep improving and developing these resources and the learning about African heritage arts in schools.

What’s next for MKAC and ADF?

Our work with the ADF and other multicultural MK groups continues in 2023–24. Milton Keynes artist Alondene Phillips, who identifies as being of mixed heritage says: “[MKAC] has consistently proven to be one of the key organisations promoting multiracial art and embracing collaborative working with other black and multi-ethnic groups …[It] has a focus on the needs of the community as a whole and I feel very fortunate to … be part of the work they do.”

Our Project Partners
By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.