Sometimes the idea for an art project begins with a famous artist or artwork that I am keen to introduce the children to, or a concept such as perspective. On other occasions there is an art technique I want them to try. I think the key to a successful project is finding the right artist to demonstrate a particular concept, or an interesting subject with which to explore a technique. In this case, two ideas came together in perfect harmony! I love introducing the kids to art from different cultures around the world, and had been wondering for a while about doing a project based on Hamsa hands, which I first saw in the form of filigree silver pendants on holiday in Tunisia many years ago. I had also been wanting to show the children how to make sgraffito (Italian: scratched) drawings with oil pastels, and suddenly realised that this technique would be ideal for reproducing the kind of detailed decoration found on Hamsa hands.
A Hamsa is a hand-shaped amulet which is found across North Africa, and is often seen in Arabic and Jewish jewellery and wall hangings. Worn around the neck or hung on the front door, the Hamsa is believed to protect against the ‘evil eye’ and often incorporates an eye as part of the decoration. Fish also appear on some Hamsas, as they are believed to be immune to evil. In Islam it is also known as a ‘Hand of Fatima’ (in honour of one of Mohammed’s daughters), while Jews call it the ‘Hand of Miriam’ (after the sister of Moses).
I showed the children images of different kinds of Hamsa, all of them adorned with beautiful, intricate decoration. Then I gave them a couple of Hamsa shapes that I had pre-cut from card (although I would have preferred them to draw and cut out their own hands if we had more time).
The first step was to cover the hand shape with bright oil pastel colours, ensuring that the whole surface was covered. Then each child took a dark colour and coloured the entire surface with a second layer of oil pastel.
Many of the children drew at least one eye on their Hamsa, and one accurately copied the antelope and fish from a beautiful painted Hamsa tile.
Please scroll through the Gallery for more examples of the children’s Hamsa hands…