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The art of Uli symbols, key stage 2

Key facts

  • Suitable for: Key Stage 2
  • Subjects: Art and design, Geography, History
  • Session type: Museum led
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Class size (maximum): 30
  • Venue: International Slavery Museum
  • Free


An art session focusing on  West African Uli symbols. Uli is the name given to the traditional designs drawn by the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Igbo compound in the International Slavery Museum is decorated in Uli symbols. Following an on gallery introduction, students are given the chance to get hands-on and work together to produce an Uli inspired art work.

Further details

museum recreation of a traditional West African compound

We start the session with an exploration of Uli symbols and their significance to the Igbo people. Pupils think about the materials used to create the symbols, the people who create them, and the places in which they are found.

Following this introduction, students are given the chance to get hands-on and work together to produce an Uli inspired art work. Starting with an exploration of the meanings of some of the symbols that they saw on gallery, students create sketches to record their findings. This gives them the opportunity to explore how messages can be sent without the need for written text or spoken word. The students then create a composition and decide what colours to use, moving on to creating a large scale painting. They are encouraged to discover the names and meanings of the symbols, and even create their own symbols with personal meanings informed by their own culture.

As well as being enjoyable and creative, the session also engages students with the idea of a rich and diverse African culture and challenges any views they may hold that Africa is both homogenous and impoverished. The session showcases the role and purpose of creative expression and symbolism in past and present Igbo culture. The session encourages students to develop a better understanding of a particular West African culture before the outset of Transatlantic Slavery and enables them to think about the significance of the life that enslaved Africans left behind. 

Students are invited to take their collective artwork back to school with them. This session gives students a unique opportunity to learn more about traditional West African culture from our specially trained staff.  The approaches used in this session enable students to develop a deeper understanding of Fundamental British Values.

Curriculum links

Key Stage 2 - History

  • A world history study.
  • A study of the key features, including the everyday lives of men, women and children, of a past society.

Key Stage 2 - Art and design

  • Use a variety of methods and approaches to communicate observations, ideas and feelings, and to design and make images and artefacts.
  • Learn about visual and tactile elements, including colour, pattern and texture, line and tone, shape, form and space, and how these elements can be combined and organised for different purposes.
  • Discover the materials and processes used in art, craft and design and how these can be matched to ideas and intentions.
  • Understand the roles and purposes of artists, craftspeople and designers working in different times and cultures.

Fundamental British Values

  • Democracy. Understand the evolution of a British society characterised by equality of rights.
  • The rule of law. Understand how British laws have evolved to keep us safe. Students will also be able to identify cultural contributions, as well as comparisons and differences with other cultures.
  • Individual liberty. Understand the importance of positive participation.
  • Mutual Respect. Learn to embrace diversity in all its forms and contribute to an inclusive community. Actively challenge prejudice and bullying behaviour.
  • Tolerance. Learn to recognise the multi-cultural, multi-faith nature of the United Kingdom, and to challenge prejudice.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

Pupils will:

  • Understand what Uli symbols are.
  • Gain knowledge and understanding of the roles of artists and their working practices.
  • Gain knowledge and understanding of characteristic features of periods and societies of the past.
  • Understand how artists use visual symbols to communicate information.


Pupils will:

  • Improve their speaking and listening skills in a group discussion context.
  • Enhance team-work by creating an art work together.
  • Improve their artistic skills by creating their artwork.


Pupils will be introduced to:

  • The significance of Uli symbols.
  • The role of museums like the International Slavery Museum.
  • That other cultures can communicate in ways different from our traditional experiences.
  • The significance of Uli symbols in West African culture.


Pupils will:

  • Be inspired by the creativity of West African people.
  • Be aware of the diversity of African culture.
  • See the International Slavery Museum as an enjoyable and creative place to visit.