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"Let us strive to make each moment beautiful."
Saint Francis DeSales
painting by Katie Bergenholtz

Equatorial Africa and African Masks Art Project

"Equatorial Africa has Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome, Principe, Gabon, Cabinda, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Angola -Equatorial Africa, the heart of the continent."-Geography Songs, Larry and Kathy Troxel

Learning About African Masks

The first thing we did was learn about African masks in general. We learned that most of the traditional masks we think of come from either West Africa or Equatorial Africa. We learned that African mask design centers around bold patterns which tend to be geometrical and symmetrical. Subtlety is not a quality you look for in tribal masks. Parallel, zigzag, cruciform, curved and spiral lines, representing scarification marks or tattoos, are frequently used to adorn the mask face. Square and triangular checkerboard grids are often carved to decorate sections of a design. Patterns on the top of the head can also can show the complex African braided hairstyles. Stylized and simplified features are used to help express abstract qualities like nobility, integrity, courage, fear and humor. Symmetrical arrangements of line, shape and form in masks evoke a sense of integrity and dignity. Straight, simplified, linear designs are often used to contrast with the curves on the rest of the mask. Using different combinations of colored cards will affect the mood of the mask.

The Art Project


To begin with you need two similar sized sheets of thick paper or card, one light in tone, the other dark to create contrasting tones. You will also need a pencil, scissors or craft knife, and some glue. Fold the light sheet in half down its vertical length and cut along the crease. This should give you two equal halves. You can set aside one of the halves and use the other half to make the facial features.

Draw stylized parts of the face, keeping in mind some of the things about African masks that you have learned. It is best to simplify this into basic shapes that contain little detail. As you cut out each feature, flip it over and place it on the dark sheet to form a symmetrical arrangement. Don't forget hair and tribal marks. 
Now take the leftover background shape, flip it over to the other side and align it with the vertical center line. This will create the background for the negative side of the face. The remaining space will become the background for the positive side of the face.
As you glue the light shapes down onto the dark background, take care to ensure that a neat line is formed down the middle of the mask where the two halves of the design meet.

Art Techniques Learned from this Lesson:

  • Basic collage techniques.
  • How to simplify and stylize shapes.
  • The expressive power of simple shapes.
  • The balance and interaction of positive and negative shapes.
  • The use of symmetry in design.
  • The effects of color, pattern and texture on your design.

Sources and More Inspiration:

5 comments:

  1. I like the colors you chose - and the process for making the mask - very interesting.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I thought Alex's choices did look very African. I like the project because it can be done with a wide range of ages and abilities.

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  2. Alex did a fabulous job! I really like the clever simplicity of the design and the colours. Good job Alex!

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  3. This mask looks great - I keep going back and forth on what time of project we should do for masks...now I'll have to add this one! If only the kids were open to doing a few :)

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