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African Masks and Masquerades

Experience the Real Thing: Visit The Minneapolis Institute of Arts to view the African art collection. Activities to do at the museum include:
  • Identify animals depicted in African masks. Why do you think these animals were honored in their community? What characteristics do they possess?
  • Identify the three mask forms in the galleries: face mask, helmet mask, and headdress. How would it feel to wear these different masks?
  • Compare and contrast the original masks to the web images. How do the sizes, colors, and textures compare? Any surprises?
  • Visit the kiosk in the African gallery to watch a Baule masquerade performance.

Masks Here and There: Masks are used in different cultures around the world. How are African masks like the masks you might use? How are the ways we use masks different from the way they are used in traditional Africa? Write down the differences and the similarities.  

Animal Hybrids: Many masks depict animal hybrids, combining features of several animals on one mask. Think of three animals found in your environment that you consider powerful. What features make them unique? Design a mask that contains features from each animal.  

Compare and Contrast: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts owns a large African mask collection. View more masks using the Art Collector tool at (Art Collector is free but you'll need to log in.) Select two masks and compare and contrast their differences. Click here to begin or here to learn more about Art Collector.  

En fran├žais: Click here for a French version of these pages.  

Perani, Judith and Fred T. Smith. The Visual Arts of Africa: Gender, Power, and Life Cycle Rituals (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998)

______. Can you Spot the Leopard? African Masks (New York: Prestel, 1997)  

April 2004