African masks are a popular art form. Elaborately carved and decorated masks have been made in Africa for thousands of years. Most African masks are made by unknown artists and creating masks is a highly respected skill. Masks can vary in size, shape and mediums including fabric, metal, various woods, and leather.
|Ngadi Mwaash (Congo)|
Masks will usually show the faces of spirits - a god, an ancestor or an animal. Artists carve and paint each mask in a particular way, so people know which spirit it is meant to be. They believe that if you put on a mask, the spirit is revealed and it will enter your body.
Traditionally, masks are worn during important ceremonies, such as harvest festivals and funerals. Many young people wear masks to go through secret rites marking the end of their childhood. The mask ceremonies are full of drama and music. The mask wearers perform ritual dances, stamping and clapping, and sometimes speaking for the spirits of the masks. Often dancers wear elaborate costumes to go with their masks. African masks are worn in ceremonies in different ways. For example, they can be worn vertically covering the face, as crests resting on the head, or as helmets that encompass the entire head to convey a disguise.
African masks are highly sought after by art collectors because they are considered some of the most unique and fine art creations in the world. You can find African masks in almost any major art gallery or museum all over the world.
|British Museum - Ivory Mask|
Dickens, Rosie. The Usborne Art Treasury. Pictures, Paintings and Projects.
(London: Usborne Publishing Limited), 2006
African Mask Making Activities
African Mask Colouring Page
Printable African Masks for Young Children
PBS: African - Mask Activities
Learning about Africa & African Masks
The Materials of an African Mask
PBS: Exploring Africa
African Heritage & Culture: Masks
History of African Art