Lesson 16: Status and Prestige: A Wall of Status and Prestige, Africa, Asia and the Americas

Summary and Objectives. Through a study of twelve works on display, students investigate how works of art can convey status and prestige. Provided with short commentaries on the objects, they should determine how the works confer status and then add to the list prestige objects of their own choosing, justifying their selections with short written discussions on the objects. Students will

  • Study twelve works of art to investigate how art can convey an individual’s status and importance.
  • Explore objects of power in their own lives through a creative writing activity.
  • Make judgments about works of art that express notions of power and status.


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Lesson 16: Wall of Status and Prestige Lesson Plan (PDF, 1 MB)

Background Information

Background Information

Personal power and prestige can be expressed through articles worn on the body, carried, displayed near an individual of importance, or displayed in a place of importance in the home. These may include emblems, insignia, or jewelry; objects made from rare and precious materials; labor-intensive works of art; and things of beauty, refinement, elegance, and grace. This section, Status and Prestige, features articles in a variety of materials, from gold, ivory, jade, and brass to hippopotamus teeth, shell, and feathers.

Prestige objects can be found in almost every culture worldwide, and their role often is to augment a person physically and metaphorically. Dramatic garments aggrandize their wearers, emblems extend their owners’ reach, and worldly possessions signal wealth and power. Through the ownership of such objects, a person symbolically becomes more than him- or herself.


About the Artist

Even though only one object on this wall carries the name of its artist-maker, (the counselor staff made by Osei Bonsu [1900-1977]) we can say with some assurance that the makers of most, if not all, of the objects displayed here, held status of their own by virtue of their skills and talents.

Some of the objects here are the result of concentrated, long-term labor by a single artist; others result from more erratic attention given to the production after satisfaction of regular daily chores, such as farming, were completed.

Some of the artists worked alone to create a piece, and other objects (i.e., the Loango tusk, on page 159) represent the cooperative work of members of recognized guilds. And while the working of some materials was the prerogative of only men, and others that of women, some pieces were customarily produced by members of both groups. The Kuba cloth on display (detail below), for instance, bears geometric designs added by women to the raffia leaf fibers that had been woven by men.

Suggested Activities

1. Proclaiming Status

Activity. In the Art and Power section of Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives one wall displays over twenty objects of status and prestige representing a variety of cultures. Some of these are included here as Handout STATUS AND PRESTIGE.

Information about these objects, in the form of museum labels, accompanies their illustrations in a simplified format. Typically on the first line the artist is identified if known. If the artist is unknown, the object is identified, followed on the second line by the people with whom it is associated. The third line tells the date of manufacture (sometimes beginning with “circa” when dating is problematic). The last line names the material(s), usually with the most important or prevalent material listed first. Sometimes, as in these labels, additional information about the object is given.

Osei Bonsu (Kumase, Ghana 1900-1977).
Counselor’s staff.
Circa 1930.
Wood, gold leaf

Carried by the cief’s counselor on all public occasions, the staff is an important piece of
Akan regalia, and conveys the importance of the chief and of the counselor who acts as his
spokesperson and advisor.

The objects are included here because their use or display calls out the high standing of an individual. As students look at the variety of pieces with their annotations, they should try to determine why an object confers prestige by the culture for whom it was made. Is it because the object is made of rare or precious materials? Is it because the execution of the work required an extraordinary amount of time or skill? Is it because wearing or displaying the object is the prerogative of a select few?

What other qualities might make any of the objects worthy of display on this Wall of Status and Prestige? Students will be able to respond to the above issues on the Handout STATUS AND PRESTIGE.

Let students also select one or more of the objects as subject for discussion on how (or if) students consider it a work of art. In what way does (or did) it add to the prestige or status of the owner or wearer?

Activity. You can have students categorize the objects into lists of a) items that are worn on the person or carried, and b) those that were used for display or decoration. For further consideration have students select an object from each category as the subject of an essay or story on how they feel when they wear the piece or when they come into a room where it is displayed.

Although it is not stressed, students could benefit from locating the continent for each object, and include Asia, Africa, and the Americas as categories for discussion.

Activity. Tell the class that this wall could be enlarged to accommodate three more cases. Have them decide what in their culture they would place in this display. Include at least one object to be worn or carried and one for display or decoration. A written language activity, prose or poetry, would elaborate on the experience.

Photograph Captions

A. Royal stool ornaments, Asante peoples, Kumase, Ghana. Before 1874. Gold. H: 12.5 cm. Fowler
Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.8524, X65.8525

B. Belt mask, Edo peoples, Kingdom of Benin, present-day Nigeria. 18th century. Brass. H: 19.05 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.9087

C. Headdress, Paiwan peoples, Taiwan. Early 20th century. Cotton, glass beads, theeth, claws, hair,
feathers, shell, fiber, yarn, bamboo, metal, brass. H: 47 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum purchase. X65.8159

D. Pectoral (sipattal). Isneg peoples, Apayao, northern Luzon, Philippines. Early–mid 20th century. Shell, beads, string. H: 24 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mrs. W. Thomas Davis. X85.446

E. Necklace, Zande-Mangbetu peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 18th–19th century. Hippopotamus teeth, hide, metal. H: 33 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X67.881

F. Necklace, Yemen, obtained in Israel. 19th–early 20th century. Silver. H: 37 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene L. Trope in memory of Sophia Friedman. X77.486

G. Jaina figure in ceremonial garb, Maya, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, or Honduras. Late
Classic, 600-900 C.E. Ceramic, pigment. H: 20 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Promised gift of Barbara and Joseph Goldenberg. X2005.18.3

H. Dish for o’olikin oil, Tsimshian peoples, British Columbia, Canada. 19th century. Wood, paint.
L: 24.5 cm, Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.7474

I. Container, sarimanok bird, Maranao peoples, Mindanao, Philippines. 19th–early 20th century. Wood, horn, metal. H: 22.8 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mrs. Elizabeth Lloyd Davis. X82.1545

J. Osei Bonsu (Kumase, Ghana, 1900-1977), Counselor’s staff. Circa 1930. Wood, gold leaf. H: 38.5 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Steve and Linda Nelson. X88.680a-c

K. Tusk, Edo peoples, Kingdom of Benin, present-day Nigeria. Early 19th century, probably commissioned by Oba Osamwende. Ivory. H: 179.7 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.9129

L. Skirt, Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 19th century. Raffia, natural dye. H: 404 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Christensen Fund. X86.904

Notes to the Teacher

This lesson is part of the curricular materials developed to accompany the exhibition Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives. Although this and companion lessons are self-contained, each will be enhanced when used in conjunction with others in this resource. Addressing several lessons within each unit will facilitate the incorporation of the study of world arts and cultures into your curriculum.

The lesson is based on works in the thrid section of the exhibition called Art and Power. In this gallery works are introduced that serve to define and assert power. See “Unit Three—Art and Power” for an introductory statement on the unit, along with some provocative “Questions for Thought,” and suggestions that will inspire the students to relate the unit to their own lives.

Images of objects to be shown to students may be printed as handouts (from within each lesson), viewed online at the Intersections web link http://collections.fowler.ucla.edu, or downloaded from the curriculum page on our website.

More Unit Lessons