Learning to Look: Baboon Mask

Mask made of brown wood, about 12 inches long and 6 inches wide, shaped like long chimpanzee face

MSU Museum Education Team Collection

This mask is an example of an animal mask, probably a baboon. Masks such as these can be found in West Africa, in countries such as Gambia, Guinea, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast.

Masks are designed to represent humans or animals or a combination of both. This mask was made to be sold as a souvenir, but masks usually have a spiritual meaning or cultural connection and are used in ceremonies and celebrations. They are worn by people, and sometimes are used to tell stories through acting and dance. Animals thought to have special attributes—such as antelopes, snakes, leopards, and crocodiles—are represented in art and in masks for symbolic purposes.

Learning to Look

  • What do you notice? What more can you find?
  • What shapes do you see?
  • What tools do you think the artist used to make the mask?
  • Animals symbolize different things in African Art. What do you think this mask symbolizes?
  • Does the mask remind you of anything you’ve seen before? Does it make you think of anything in your life?

Learn More

Making Masks: When carving a headdress or mask, the artist wasn’t trying to recreate the features of an individual person or animal, but to create something that shows the qualities or character of the mask. This allowed the artist to use stylized forms intended to convey the spirit of the animal in relation to the spirit of the mask, instead of trying to make a portrait or a copy of the animal. Sometimes the style of carving and the meanings behind it were passed down from artist to artist, with the elder teaching the younger.

Make Your Own Animal Mask

You can make your own animal mask from materials you have at home! Here are some ideas:

Find

  • Mask material: Plain printer paper, construction paper, a paper grocery bag, or a piece of cardboard
  • Other materials: Pencils, markers, crayons, scissors

Make

  • Think about the animal you want to symbolize. What does it represent to you?
  • Draw an animal mask shape on your mask material. Make sure it is big enough to cover your face!
  • Cut out your mask. Don’t forget eye holes!
  • Color or decorate however you want.

Wear

  • Hold the mask in front of your face. How does it look? How does it make you feel when wearing it?
  • Share the meaning of your mask with someone.
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