African Masks

E&I Program: 
Distance Learning
Grade level : 
2 to 5

These teacher materials emphasize African cosmology, which sees an essential division between the village and the bush, or wilderness. The village is the human world of law, family and agriculture. The bush is the domain of wild animals and powerful, unruly spirits. Masquerades allow the villages to temporarily harness the power of the bush spirits, to use for the purposes of civilization. The Cleveland Museum of Art houses many masks from West Africa; magnificent objects that form the core of this lesson. We appreciate these masks and headdresses for their symbolism and the abstract beauty of their design. However, the African art of the mask extends far beyond the mask itself. It is also the performance of music, dance, and storytelling that come together in the masquerade. Both the teacher materials and the suggested extensions encourage the students to participate in elements of the masquerade. Movement, song and storytelling put the objects in context.