The mask is the result of a vast drama; the masked man gives the universal system movement and color.
Human history until the latest phases is very largely the story of man’s interaction with his environment. . . . his art is used in ceremonies intended to control the environment.
Children enjoy acting out the world of makebelieve, especially through the use of masks. The mask is an exciting and intriguing phenomenon, for under its cover, the child becomes free to become someone else. This process of transformation and maskuse is thoughtprovoking: for how does the artistic but inanimate object of the mask contain such power?
For some groups, such as African tribes, the power of the mask lies in its creation. Masks are created for a reason such as to insure fertile crops; the more important the reason to a society, the more powerful the mask.
The African mask plays a constant sacred role in the life of the individual from early childhood until burial. The mask is an instrument; without it, one cannot understand his culture.
One example is the mask which the elder (or leader) wears to hide his personal authority and identity, enabling him to assert an omniscient authority in an impersonal way. With the mask, he is the Law. The mask is not an abstract symbol; its use transforms the wearer into the tangible presence of law and order in the tribal mind.
To continue, the form and details which a mask may take represent a set of cultural beliefs. attitudes, and behavior. Depending upon the ceremony for which a mask is created, each mask’s different details will represent what that ceremony needs to accomplish.
By identifying certain characteristics of the mask, students of culture and anthropologists, among others, can gain insight into the culture that created it. Through this approach, the mask provides a fascinating key to unlock and to explore West African culture.
I intend to apply this method in the middle school art classroom to teach both culture and art and the relationship between the two. This approach will help the student understand the significance of maskmaking. While the student in the art room actually creates a mask, he can experience the relationship between the meaning and the process of art. Maskmaking becomes a more interesting art project because it has a significant purpose; the student begins to understand the reasons for creating such a mask.