The style and composition of traditionally styled African masks are typically influenced by the social and religious beliefs of the community they are being designed to represent. African masks typically portray abstract qualities such as nobility, beauty and courage. Different designs, shapes and materials all represent different things. African mask school project ideas can explore these various elements and their meanings while also encouraging individual artistic expression from students.

African Mask Shapes

African masks are created in many forms including oval, circular, rectangular, elongated, heart-shaped or even as abstract representations of animals and humans. Different shapes of African masks represent different things. Formal symmetrical arrangements of line, shape and form in masks speak to integrity and dignity. As an African mask school project idea, students can study African mask designs and hypothesize, based on shape, what characteristics the mask is intended to symbolize. Color pencil-sketched renderings can be made as part of the project.

African Mask Textures

Fine quality detail demonstrating skilled craftsmanship are highly valued in African mask design. Much like the shape of African masks, various textures represent various things. Highly polished surfaces represent beauty and virtue, while rough or dirty finishes often represent fear and evil. Students can explore textures, and make educated guesses as to what human characteristics the mask's textures are intended to represent. Miniature masks made of different fabrics mounted on poster board or canvas can be part of the project.

African Mask Patterns

Bold patterns in vibrant colors are hallmarks of African mask design. Most patterns are geometrical and symmetrical. Different lines have different meanings, with parallel, zigzag, cruciform, curved and spiral lines being most prevalent. Lines, either painted or carved, can indicate gender and social status. Students can discuss the symbolism of African mask patterns and colors and create a series of decoupaged pieces of hand-cut paper patterns that symbolize the represented characteristics they find most appealing.

African Mask Materials

African masks were often made with whatever material was most plentiful in a region, with wood being a favored material. Other materials include bronze, brass, copper, ivory, terracotta and textiles, frequently embellished with shells, beads and animal skins. Students can study the meaning associated with various mask-making materials and craft their own life-sized African masks using the materials they feel best represent them as individuals. For best results, begin with a paper-mache base and allow students to choose decorative elements, including paints, beads, fibers, faux animal skins and shells.