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AFRICAN MASKS. African Tribal Artist. The African tribal artist's training, which may last many years, involves the knowledge of traditional carving techniques and how these apply to the social and religious objects he creates.

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african tribal artist
African Tribal Artist
  • The African tribal artist's training, which may last many years, involves the knowledge of traditional carving techniques and how these apply to the social and religious objects he creates.
  • His craft can be learned as an apprentice in the workshop of a master carver, or sometimes these skills are passed down from father to son through many generations of his family.
  • The artist holds a respected position in African tribal society. It is his job to provide the various masks and sculptures for use in ritual ceremonies. His work is valued for its spiritual, rather than its aesthetic qualities.
function of the african mask
African masks should be seen as part of a ceremonial costume.

They are used in religious and social events to represent the spirits of ancestors or to control the good and evil forces in the community.

They come to life, possessed by their spirit in the performance of the dance, and are enhanced by both the music and atmosphere of the occasion.

Some combine human and animal features to unite man with his natural environment. This bond with nature is of great importance to the African and through the ages masks have always been used to express this relationship. 

Function of the African Mask
what is the mask made of
What is the Mask made of?
  • African masks are made from different materials: wood, bronze, brass, copper, ivory, terracotta and glazed pottery, raffia and textiles.
  • They are often decorated with cowrie shells, coloured beads, bone, animal skins and vegetable fibre.
  • However, the majority of masks and sculptures are made of wood for two reasons:

1. Trees are in plentiful supply in the forest.

2. The carver believes that the tree has a spiritual soul and its wood     is the most natural home for the spirit in the mask.

  • Wooden masks are often coloured with natural dyes and pigments created from vegetables, plants, seeds, tree bark, soil and insects. Occasionally they are splashed with sacrificial blood to increase their spiritual power.
patterns in the mask
Bold pattern, either painted or carved, is a powerful and expressive element in African mask design.

Most patterns tend to be geometrical and symmetrical and are used in a variety of ways

Parallel, zigzag, cruciform, curved and spiral lines, representing scarification marks or tattoos, are frequently used to adorn the planes of the mask face. These can denote social status or have magical or religious powers.

Different geometric patterns are sometimes used to distinguish between male and female masks

Square and triangular checkerboard grids are often carved to decorate sections of a design.

A variety of complex braided hairstyles adorn the top of the head.

Patterns in the Mask
mask style
Mask Style
  • There are two main forces that influence the style of an African tribal mask:

1. The traditional style that is dictated by the social and religious  beliefs of the community

  • 2. The individual vision of the carver.
  • COMPOSITION -  Formal symmetrical arrangements of line, shape and form in figures and masks evoke integrity and dignity.
  • TEXTURE -  Skilled craftsmanship, fine detail and quality of finish are of great importance to the African tribal artist. Highly polished surfaces which represent a youthful healthy skin reflect the idea of beauty and virtue, while rough dirty surfaces suggest fear and evil. Many African carvings portay the idealised human figure in its prime, brimming with health, strength, and celebrating fertility or virility.
  • SHAPE - African masks take on many forms. They can be oval, circular, rectangular, elongated, heart-shaped, animal or human, or any combination of these.
baule mask
The Baule are farmers who populate the eastern side of the Ivory Coast. This type of Baule mask is known as a Goli mask.

It is used in dances during harvest festivals and in processions to honour distinguished visitors.

The circular face represents the life-giving force of the sun and the horns symbolise the great power of the buffalo.

The mask is made of wood with two holes cut into the eyes to enable the wearer to see.

The rectangular mouth is also typical of this type of mask.

Baule Mask
ligbi masks
Ligbi Masks
  • The Ligbi people are a community from the Ivory Coast.
  • Ligbi masks are used in the celebration of Islamic holidays, especially the end of Ramadan.
  • The dancers who wear these masks are noted for their elegantly synchronised movements as they dance in pairs.
  • The typical Ligbi mask has an elongated face trimmed with wings on either side.
  • The eyes are shaded and the mouth is rectangular.
  • Both animal and human forms are combined in its image.
  • Make-up and jewellery are also added to decorate these masks during the celebration.
biombo masks
Biombo Masks
  • The Biombo live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • Biombo masks are usually carved from wood and coloured with a red / orange dye.
  • The eyes are a typical coffee bean shape.
  • A triangular checkerboard design is used to decorate the eyebrows and the planes of the face.
  • The three forms at the back of the head represent the Biombo hairstyle.
  • Biombo masks are usually worn during tribal rituals.
bwa maks
Bwa Maks
  • The Bwa come from Mali and Burkina Faso.
  • Bwa masks are believed to possess special powers which are controlled by those who wear them.
  • These masks are plank shaped with a circular face at one end and a crescent moon at the other.
  • Their wearer looks through a hole in the mouth.
  • The eyes are based on an owl and the hooked nose comes from the hornbill.
  • The designs on this Bwa Mask, which is used to celebrate boys' initiation to adulthood, represent information about myths and morality that the boys must learn before they can be accepted into adult society.
step 1
Step 1
  • To begin with you need two similar sized sheets of card, one light in tone, one dark.
  • The contrasting tones will be used to create a balance of positive and negative features in the design.
  • You will also need a pencil, scissors or craft knife, and some glue
  • Arrange the sheets in portrait format.
  • Fold the light sheet in half down its vertical length and cut along the crease. This should give you two equal halves.
  • Then take one light half and place it over the dark sheet to create a symmetrical arrangement like the one illustrated above - one half dark, one half light.
step 2
Step 2
  • Draw a stylised eye about halfway down the light sheet.
  • Stylised or exaggerated features are used to help express more abstract qualities like nobility, integrity, courage, fear and humour.
step 2 continued
Step 2 Continued
  • Cut out the eye shape, flip it over and place it on the dark sheet to form a symmetrical arrangement.
  • You will now begin to see the counterchange of pattern which will be used throughout this mask design - a perfect balance between dark and light, positive and negative. 
step 3
Step 3
  • Draw one half of a stylised nose on the light coloured paper.
  • This should stretch from just above the eyes to roughly halfway between the eyes and the bottom of the sheet.
step 3 continued
Step 3 Continued
  • Cut out the nose and flip it over.
  • Place it on the dark sheet and align it with the vertical edge of the light paper.
  • This will complete its symmetrical shape and maintain the tonal counterchange of the mask design.
step 4
Step 4
  • Next, draw one half of a stylised mouth on the light sheet.
step 4 continued
Step 4 Continued
  • Cut out the mouth and flip it over.
  • As before, place it on the dark sheet and align it with the vertical edge of the light paper to complete its shape.
  • Note that the inside of the mouth has also been cut out and flipped onto the light side of the design to create the illusion of an opening.  
step 5
Step 5
  • Draw a simple outline for the face on the light paper.
  • This could be oval, circular, rectangular, elongated, heart-shaped, animal-shaped or human, or any combination of these.
  • Different outline shapes will give you different expressive effects.
step 5 continued
Step 5 Continued
  • Cut around the outline of the face and leave the remaining face shape in position.
  • Then take the background shape, flip it over to the other side and align it with the vertical centre line.
  • This will create the background for the other side of the face, while its negative space will define the other side of the head.
step 6
Step 6
  • Draw some tattoo designs or scarification marks on the light side of the face.
  • These markings are often used on masks to communicate coded information or social status.
  • They can also represent magical or religious power. 
step 6 continued
Step 6 Continued
  • Cut out the tattoo or scarification marks, flip them over and place them on the opposite side of the design to create a symmetrical arrangement.
  • Symmetrical arrangements of line, shape and form in masks evoke a sense of integrity and dignity. 
step 7
Step 7
  • On the light background draw a stylish design to represent hair or braids.
  • A straight linear design representing hair braids is used here to contrast with the curves on the rest of the mask.
step 7 continued
Step 7 Continued
  • Cut out the stylised hair braid, flip it over and place it onto the dark side of the design to complete the symmetry and counterchange of the arrangement.