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Harrison Middle African Masks[1]

Harrison Middle African Masks[1]



Reference materials for Harrison students

Reference materials for Harrison students



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    Harrison Middle African Masks[1] Harrison Middle African Masks[1] Document Transcript

    • African Masks In Africa masks can be traced back to well past Paleolithic times. These art objects were, and are still made of various materials, included are leather, metal, fabric and various types of wood. African masks are considered amongst the finest creations in the art world and are highly sought after by art collectors. Many of the pieces some replica's, can be viewed in museums and art galleries in many parts of the world. Masking ceremonies in Africa have great cultural and traditional significance. Latest developments and understanding of Aesthetic principles, religious and ceremonial values, have brought about a greater insight into the ideas and moral values that African artists express in their art. During celebrations, initiations, crop harvesting, war preparation, peace and trouble times, African masks are worn by a chosen or initiated dancer. It can be worn in three different ways: vertically covering the face: as helmets, encasing the entire head, and as crest, resting upon the head, which was commonly covered by material as part of the disguise. African masks often represent a spirit and it is strongly believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer. Ritual ceremonies generally depict deities, spirits of ancestors, mythological beings, good and or evil, the dead, animal spirits, and other beings believed to have power over humanity. Masks of human ancestors or totem ancestors (beings or animals to which a clan or family traces its ancestry) are often objects of family pride; when they are regarded as the dwelling of the spirit they represent, the masks may be honored with ceremonies and gifts. During the mask ceremony the dancer goes into deep trance, and during this state of mind he "communicate" with his ancestors. A wise man or translator sometimes accompanies the wearer of the mask during the ritual. The dancer brings forth messages of wisdom from his ancestors. Often the messages are grunted utterances and the translator will accurately decipher the meaning of the message. Rituals and ceremonies are always accompanied with song, dance and music, played with traditional African musical instruments. For thousands of years, rituals and ceremonies was and to a lesser extent is still an integral part of African life. The gradual, effects of parceled out territories to Colonial governments, and the ensuing damage to traditional economies followed by the displacement of huge quantities of people, by colonialism, resulted in economies and food production systems being wrecked. In general the vast number of people have lost some of its tribal identity and culture, hence masking ceremonies are no longer common place in Africa. In Africa we have a wide variety of masks from different tribes and cultures. To bring some clarity and understanding it is helpful to classify them into roughly 8 basic types. Headdress: (A good example would be one from the Ekhoi tribe now classified as part of Elagham Nigeria see image to the left) Artists carve cephalomorphic and zoomorphic mask. The headdress and masks are covered with antelope skin this is one of the main characteristics associated with this tribe. The basket at the base is the shape of the top portion of the head. The costume is normally made of plant fiber and or raffia and covers the entire body of the mask bearer. Face mask: this is the most common type found throughout Africa (see sample image to the right: Chokwe tribe). The mask covers the face and has holes along the side.
    • Before the wearer dons the costume his assistants will rub his/her body with a covering of natural oil, this serve as protection against evil spirits. The mask is then placed over the face and attached to the head opening of the costume. Thereafter a skirt made of vegetable fibers is attached around the waist. In some instances the entire body is covered with fiber or raffia. View the catalog here and the history of the Chokwe here Horizontal plank mask: Bwa tribe Burkino Faso, (see sample image to the right) these types of masks is worn on top of the head and it resembles an owl or bird in flight. The underside is carved to the shape of the head. View the catalog here Helmet Masks is carved from a solid piece of tree trunk, it is hollowed to fit over the head and with carved out openings for the eyes, mouth and nose. This type of mask is commonly found among the Sande - Liberia and the Mende - Sierra Leone. Body or Belly Mask (see image to the left) from the Makonde tribe, Southeastern Tanzania. Carved from a solid tree trunk the hollow fits to the fron of the body. The mask is normally part of the costume of a Ndimu masker and are normally worn by a male masquerader together with a matching face mask. Helmet Crest: Cap Crest: Shoulder mask: Multi wearer mask: The forms of masks typically have not changed during the centuries which makes dating sometimes almost impossible. The reason for this strict adherence to style is the concept that the spirit will not recognize its abode if it is different from the conventional forms. When tribesmen and women use masks, the intent is not to hide behind them, but rather to use the unconscious as a direct path to the spirit world. Acting out in character is a psychological tool used to expose and drive inward When tribesmen and women use masks, the intent is not to hide behind them, but rather to use the unconscious as a direct path to the spirit world. Acting out in character is a psychological tool used to expose and drive inward The ceremonial participants often start with what they know about the spirits, acting out known characteristics and familiar stories, and then make the leap into improvisation to explore the un- known The whole purpose of using masks in this context is to orchestrate specific emotions among both the performers and the audience. In this sense, the dancers and shaman are like psychic mediums The African tribal artist's training, which may last many years, involves the knowledge of traditional carving techniques and how these apply to the social and religious objects he creates. His craft can be learned as an apprentice in the workshop of a master carver, or sometimes these skills are passed down from father to son through many generations of his family.
    • The artist holds a respected position in African tribal society. It is his job to provide the various masks and sculptures for use in ritual ceremonies. His work is valued for its spiritual, rather than its aesthetic qualities. When artists and collectors in the West first took an interest in African Art, they did not appreciate its social or spiritual function. African art was simply viewed as a naive genre with a strong visual impact. At the dawn of the 20th century, European artists were looking for new forms of expression that challenged, rather than simply illustrated, their rapidly changing world of ideas and technology. The traditional techniques of realism and perspective seemed overworked and predictable. Their solution was to draw on images from other cultures and fuse them with European influences to refresh the tired traditions of Western art. The new perspectives that these cultures offered opened many doors of development which led to the cross-fertilisation of ideas and styles that constitute our art world today. The expressive power of African art was fundamental to this revolution and to the development of the first modernist styles: Cubism, Fauvism and Expressionism. Today, the finer qualities of African tribal art, like the qualities of good art from any continent, are more clearly understood and have assumed their true position in the art of mankind. Sadly however, most traditional African artworks are now produced for the tourist trade. Although some of these objects are examples of skilled craftsmanship, collectors suggest that many lack the character that is generated by a spiritual, as opposed to a profit motive. Art without a 'spiritual dimension', in the broadest sense of the term, never transcends the level of mere craftsmanship and is unable to communicate those elevated emotions that are born from a deeper mystical inspiration. The Materials of an African Mask African masks are made from different materials: wood, bronze, brass, copper, ivory, terra cotta and glazed pottery, raffia and textiles. They are often decorated with cowrie shells, coloured beads, bone, animal skins and vegetable fibre. However, the majority of masks and sculptures are made of wood for two reasons: 1. Trees are in plentiful supply in the forest. 2. The carver believes that the tree has a spiritual soul and its wood is the most natural home for the spirit in the mask. Before it is cut down, a sacrifice may be offered as a mark of respect to the spirit of the tree requesting its permission for the carving. Its life is governed by the same natural and supernatural forces that inspire the artist and his community. This type of ritual is common to many cultures that have a close spiritual bond with nature.
    • Wooden masks are often coloured with natural dyes and pigments created from vegetables, plants, seeds, tree bark, soil and insects. Occasionally they are splashed with sacrificial blood to increase their spiritual power. The tools used to make a carving - traditionally the Adze - are also endowed with their own particular spirits. When tools are passed down through different generations, they sometimes inherit the spirit and skills of their previous owners. They, like the artist, his carving, and the tree from which it came, are all part of that 'oneness' of nature - the ecological vision that informs all African tribal culture. The Use of Pattern in African Masks Bold pattern, either painted or carved, is a powerful and expressive element in African mask design. Most patterns tend to be geometrical and symmetrical and are used in a variety of ways: Pattern is often used as a form of coded information. Parallel, zigzag, cruciform, curved and spiral lines, representing scarification marks or tattoos, are frequently used to adorn the planes of the mask face. These can denote social status or have magical or religious powers. Different geometric patterns are sometimes used to distinguish between male and female masks. Square and triangular checkerboard grids are often carved to decorate sections of a design. A variety of complex braided hairstyles adorn the top of the head. Interlacing crosses and geometric forms are often seen as details on African masks. With the spread of the Moslem faith in Africa, some of these designs show an influence of the decorative ideals of Islamic Art. The Elements of Style in an African Mask There are two main forces that influence the style of an African tribal mask: 1. The traditional style that is dictated by the social and religious beliefs of the community. 2. The individual vision of the carver. African tribal artists do not try to create a perfect representation of their subject. Although some realistic portraits are made, others celebrate more abstract qualities like nobility, beauty, courage, mischief and humour. They create an idealised version, emphasising those elements that they consider most important. COMPOSITION - Formal symmetrical arrangements of line, shape and form in figures and masks evoke integrity and dignity. TEXTURE - Skilled craftsmanship, fine detail and quality of finish are of great importance to the African tribal artist. Highly polished surfaces which represent a youthful healthy skin reflect the idea of beauty and virtue, while rough dirty surfaces suggest fear and evil. Many African carvings
    • portray the idealised human figure in its prime, brimming with health, strength, and celebrating fertility or virility. SHAPE - African masks take on many forms. They can be oval, circular, rectangular, elongated, heart-shaped, animal or human, or any combination of these. The simplification and abstraction of visual elements in the art of the African Mask emphasize its expressive power. When we look at Expressionist art of the 20th century, we tend to think of it as a European style. One look at elements of African art shows you where this visual vocabulary was born.