Why “Patterns of Complexity?”

Patterns of Complexity is the title of my curriculum unit for the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad program. Every participant in the program needs to produce a curriculum unit that will be available to all teachers. One of the places to find curriculum units is on Outreach World: A resource for teaching kids about the world. http://www.outreachworld.org/. (About five years ago, I wrote a unit on Italy for the West European Studies program at IU as part of a grant I received to help fund my first trip to Italy, and that unit is also on this website.)

When I decided I wanted to apply for the Morocco/Tunisia program, I thought about what topic I wanted to focus on for my curriculum unit that I could incorporate into my art education and elementary education classes. What is the first thing, first image that pops into your mind when you think about Morocco? Visually, I think of the intricate, beautiful patterning found in the architecture and in Moroccan culture in general. Once I decided pattern was a good place to start, I then did some preliminary research about the highly patterned tilework, called zellij. What a perfect topic to include with art education classes! The patterns are based upon the overlapping and repetition of circles, so this is a natural integration with math.

The complexity part is the multi-layered nature of pattern. Pattern can be aesthetically beautiful on its own, a visceral treat, but it often contains layers of meaning, religious symbolism, and a great history.  Complexity can also relate to how difficult I make my own topic out to be.

A stack of my books on Islamic art and architecture, Islamic patterns, Moroccan art and culture, guidebooks on Morocco and Tunisia, and Moroccan and Tunisian history, most of which came from Amazon.

With all of these great books, I have some really fantastic resources to consult in producing the curriculum unit. However, I have only cracked each of the books open, mostly to look at the pictures. The research has begun more in terms of trying to narrow down what I want to pursue while I’m in Morocco and Tunisia. I can’t bring these books with me (no room and too heavy), so they will have to wait until I get back!

There are a number of great on-line resources, though, that I can bring with me on my computer. (See the sites listed on the sidebar.) I downloaded pdf educator resource guides from the Met and from the National Gallery of Art, which will be of great help in differentiating patterns that I’ll see in Morocco. I am also bringing graph paper, a compass, a ruler, watercolors, pens, and a variety of pencils so I can do some drawing, documentation, and experimentation besides photographing these patterns.

I also want to be flexible in my topic. As I am researching Tunisia and Morocco further, I am finding that ancient Rome left a large mark on North Africa. For example, Tunisia has the best preserved Roman coliseum at El Jem and the best collection of Roman mosaics in the world at the Bardo museum in Tunis. Textiles and crafts are also of interest to me, so the idea of pattern may be expanded beyond tilework to include pattern seen in art and culture. BUT I do need to make sure my topic doesn’t get out of hand. For example, when I wrote the unit on the Artistic Influence of Italy, the unit kept expanding until it was over 60 pages long. I have to remember it’s not a book- it’s just a unit of study.

Tomorrow I leave for the pre-departure orientation at the Emrich Conference Center in Brighton, Michigan, where I’ll get to meet the other 15 program participants and our program leaders.  We will have lectures on the histories of Morocco and Tunisia, Islam in the Maghreb, Christianity and Judaism in Tunisia, and Religious Lives of Moroccan Women.


About Sue Uhlig

I am a doctoral student in art education at Penn State University. My research interests include collecting as pedagogy, public pedagogy, sensory ethnography, material culture, and arts-based research practices. Traveling excites me, and I like to visit places both near and far where I can explore the cultural complexities, layered histories, and geographic wonders of place. I enjoy behaving as a local in a faraway place or acting as a tourist in my hometown. I used to frequent state parks and tent camp, but lately my travels have moved me from natural settings to more urban ones where a nice hotel or the hospitality of friends is appreciated. I pick up things along the way, adding to my building collections of place-based objects that fill boxes, drawers, walls, and shelves. Prior to relocating to Pennsylvania for graduate work, I lived in the Midwest, first in suburban Chicago for my formative years then to Lafayette, Indiana. I received a MA in art education at Purdue and subsequently taught there as a continuing lecturer in art appreciation and art education.
This entry was posted in Pre-departure. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why “Patterns of Complexity?”

  1. Steve Madalinski says:

    Looks fantastic Sue! Remember, less is more. I heard a phrase the other day about “snack size learning”. A great visual to think about to reign in the runaway topic.

    Have a great trip! Looking forward to the updates and photos.


  2. Eric says:

    Hey Sue,
    Love your blog. Exciting times! Please travel safe & I’ll be checking in often. Interesting connection between the Romans & North Africa…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s