African masks are an important feature of African society and embody the traditional culture and arts of the various tribes of the continent. Masks usually have a particular religious or spiritual meaning within a tribe and often represent important animals or various ancestors of that tribe.
They also attribute a special status to mask owners, especially when they are dressed in a ceremony. Masks from Africa are usually made from human cartoons or animal muzzles. There are several renowned exhibitions and galleries in New York where you can explore more contemporary african art.
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While these masks can appear realistic at times, they are usually abstract or contain exaggerated features such as lips, ears, or very large facial structures.
For example, the Bwa tribe makes masks depicting spirits flying in the forest, but usually these masks are made from a combination of geometric shapes, not real living things.
Often certain stylistic elements on masks have a particular meaning for the community. Also, elements of style can tell a story. For example, the eagle masks often have saw-shaped lines or a particular pattern in the outline of the animal, which may indicate the difficulties of earlier ancestors.
Wood is the most common material used to make African masks, although many other elements are also used. Copper, bronze, and tin were widely used to strengthen the mask structure.
Some masks are painted with intricate decorations, while others retain the color of the base material. Decorative items such as animal hair, horns, teeth, and fur are also widely used in mask making, especially those that signify a more human form.