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African Masks: The Art of Disguise

Essay by   •  September 4, 2011  •  Study Guide  •  345 Words (2 Pages)  •  1,970 Views

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African Masks: The Art of Disguise

I. Who or what did you see and learn?

Last week, I had the opportunity to see the fascinating exhibit named African Masks: The Art of Disguise, an exhibition of seventy-two sub-Saharan African masks, dating from the 19th Century up to 2002, at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The exhibit shows the meaning and the use of the African masks. I saw masks from Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

I learned five basic things:

1) African masks are divided in two groups: male and female.

2) African masks are sub-divided in four sections: masquerades, human disguise, composite disguise, and animal disguise. The exhibit is called "The Art of Disguise," because masks were worn with full-body costumes that often disguised the human shape underneath.

3) African masks are made using different materials, such as wood, textiles, animal skin, beads, horns, shells, bird feathers, fiber, human hair, and semi-precious stones. Also, they are made in different styles and sizes, depending of who and how they are going to be used.

4) African masks were used for different reasons including spiritual and funerary ceremonies, as well as to intercede in community and familiar conflicts.

5) Most African masks were made and worn by men.

II. What did you think about the event or program?

I thought the exhibit was fascinating and very interesting. It was a great educational opportunity to learn about African cultures.

Moreover, the video performances made the exhibition more realistic, showing the dancers wearing their masks and their costumes. Every mask on display has a purpose and a story behind it. D'mba (Baga, Guinea) is a great example. This mask represents a Great Mother and symbolizes mature femininity; her large flat breasts indicate that she nursed many infants during her life time, nurturing them with her life-giving milk. D'mba is always a welcome site at births. I felt touched by this mask in a very special way because it symbolizes the love of a mother for her children and the way she devotes her life to them. This is an exhibit that should not be missed.

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