African Masks

Topics: Initiation, Art, Mask Pages: 10 (2610 words) Published: August 30, 2010



2.1 Historical background and information 4


3.1 The Makishi Masquerades among the Chokwe and related people6

3.2 Pwo Mask7

3.3 The Ngidi and Makanda initiation Rites8

3.4 Holo Mask9

3.5 The Bambara tribe of Mali and the Chi Wara antelope Mask9





Figure 1:Unknown Artist, Pwo Mask, Wood Carving, patina and plant material,

9.5” x 10” x 10”, Private Collection, (Bastin, 1982:91). 7

Figure 2:Unknown Artist, Chi Wara antelope Mask, Wood Carving,

plant material, horns, antelope skin, 9.8” x 11” x 23.5”,

Private Collection, (Van Wyk, Garratt & Stepan, 1998:88). 9

Figure 3:Unknown Artist, Chi Wara antelope Mask, Wood Carving,

plant material, horns, antelope skin, 9.8” x 11” x 10.5”,

Private Collection, (Chi Wara antelope mask. S.a.). 10 2. INTRODUCTION

It has been said that art in Africa is the visible expression of the invisible. With that in mind I will discuss and explain, with reference to the statement, the complex social role of the different types of masks used in traditional African societies. I will also explain the religious and political roles of these masks in the community.

Through gathering information from books and electronic sources I will explain the context of ceremonial African masking and the basic characteristics thereof. I will do research on specific masks, their style and the purpose of their existence within their community.

2.1 Historical background and information

Masks are time and again depicted as the classic art form of Africa. If you look at the history of African masks, you will find that African masks can be traced back to long before the Palaeolithic[1] times. African masks are being greatly hunted down by art lovers and collectors, as they are some of the most supreme art pieces in the art world today. The masks as it is normally seen in a western perspective, however, as a museum piece in a glass display case or hanging on a wall, is a single element artificially isolated from the context for which it was intended. In these masks, originally created for different masking ceremonies of different tribes you will find different types of materials such as leather, metal, fabric, organic materials and various types of wood. One example of this is the Chi Wara antelope mask of the Bambara culture of Mali, It is used in rituals associated with planting and harvesting. During celebrations like this, initiation ceremonies, war preparation and troubled times you can find a chosen person or an initiated dancer wearing these masks. The headpiece itself can have a range of greatly different significances depending on the precise local understanding of the spiritual agency involved in its performance. African masquerades are a highly complex and diverse range of cultural practices, few of which correspond closely to ideas associated with mask wearing in the West (African masks history and meaning, S.a.; African art and architecture, 2001).

Latest development and understanding of aesthetic principles, religious and ceremonial values, have brought about a grater insight into the ideas and moral values that African artists express in their art. Art is the expression or the application of creative skill and imagination, especially through a visual medium such as painting or sculpture. In the Oxford dictionary (2002:607) you will find the meaning of the word invisible to be something unable to be seen, either by nature or because of concealed. If you relate that in contents to the statement that African art is the visible expression of the invisible, you can say that African art, especially the making of...
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