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The Beauty Behind African Masks

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The Beauty Behind African Masks

One of the things people enjoy about African culture is the beauty of its cultural art. From authentic African masks and clothing, to spears and shields, the African continent is chock full of wonderful things to look at and show.

 

Often times, people will be struck by the beauty of such art and not know the history or story behind what the people are actually expressing. Take masks for example.

The masks of Africa are essentially a part of rituals and ceremonies in Africa, particularly the West African and Subsaharan regions. The people have been using these kinds of art for centuries, and while the specific expressions of each art piece vary from tribe to tribe, there tend to be some common traits in the masks of most African cultures. These common traits center around the fact that they are used in ritual dances as well as religious events so as to attribute a special status or signficance to the wearers as something that sets them apart from the rest of the attendants.

Many times the art of mask-making is a closely guarded family tradition, with fathers teaching their sons how to make them as well as the symbolic meaning conveyed by each kind of mask. This way, the traditions of the elders of the tribe continue from generation to generation.

The inspiration of African masks has also spread to other parts of the world. European and Western art, for example, shows traces of African influence in its cubism and expressionism movements. Also, the masks of Central and South America tend to show similar traits, and it is believed that milenia ago, their ancestors probably worked together on certain mask making tasks.

As stated above, the ceremonial purpose of a mask is to set apart the individual wearing the masks from the rest of the crowd. It is believed among most African cultures that a person who wears a ritual mask loses his or her mere human identity and takes on the personality or spirit of the mask. Thus there is a rather strong spiritualism represented in African masks.

This spiritualism could signify the dialogue between the community and the unknown world, such as those of the dead and nature spirits of wind, water, or animal. Masks also can signify maternity, as African art often turned to childbirth and rearing by the female as a point of significance.

Ordinary family masks could also refer to animal symbols, female beauty symbols, or memories of the ancestors. Often times these masks will accentuate certain features such as the lips or eyes in order to bring memory of the characters they represent.

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