African Masks

To start think about and record how, when and why we use masks.

Who wears the mask?

African masks are mainly only worn by men, infact women are not even allowed to see certain masks

When and why are the masks worn?

On the African continent masks are used for many reasons. Masks are not used as a disguise instead they are used to help the wearer become someone else completely. On its own the mask looks quite strange but worn during a ceremony or ritual the wearer and the people watching know exactly what the mask means. For example in our culture we wear black to a funeral, in the African culture the mask is worn to represent the dead person’s soul (the special something about a person)

This mask shows two faces, a mask used at a funeral representing the dead soul continuing on alongside the living. Sometimes people in our culture like to think of death like this that the person, the memories of that person continue to live on after the person has died. The masks are also worn in ritual the African tribes believe that by wearing these masks they will scare away bad spirits from the village.

Are there different types of mask?

Yes, some masks are tied on round the back of the head others are held on sometimes by the wearers teeth! There are helmet masks worn over the whole head, front and back other masks are worn just on the forehead. Some masks are huge, covering the entire body.

These photographs are an example of masks which cover the entire body!

How are the masks designed?

The masks owned by the tribes are seen to be very important belongings. Each mask is carefully worked on and it can take weeks for a mask to be completed. Once made the mask is then kept in a safe place and only taken out for important reasons. Masks are made from a variety of materials , cloth, wood ,bronze.

What materials do you think these masks are made from?

Also the masks are not designed to look like real faces. The eyes of the mask are not designed to look like real eyes with eyelashes for example instead the eye is designed to add drama and emotion to the mask. For example the eyes make the mask look sad, angry, suspicious.

Look at this mask ,look at how the eyes have been carved into the wood. How do the eyes appear, sad, angry, surprised?

In this picture how do the eyes appear? The eyes take up a lot of space on this mask, Why? Also look at the nose again, the nose does not look like a realistic nose, just a triangle, but look at the decorative detail on the nose, it gives the nose a 3-D effect.

Here are some examples of masks designed and made by some art students.