African masks are often regarded in the art world as one of the most sought after pieces of art. These pieces are made out of several different types of materials, but traditionally they are made out of wood, cloth, and sometimes decorated with a second layer like beads and paint. Most would be surprised to learn that a traditional, African style mask never really looks much like an actual human face, but they do convey strong human emotions like: happiness, sadness, anger, etc. Some of these ideas are just a large over look of the mask, but Africa is extremely diverse with the amount of countries, tribes, and clans that it has. What we are getting at is mask can be pretty broad in what they look like and mean.
Traditionally masks fulfill a sacred purpose and played a different role, according to specific tribes across the continent. The mask may take up to two weeks to finish, and then it is put in a special place where it is only taken out for specific ceremonies or celebrations like weddings, funerals, initiations, or to entertain an important person. Men are the only ones to wear masks for the most part, but women will also wear them on specific occasions like initiations. The initiation is significant especially to women because it celebrates a girls coming of age. Though this is traditional culture in Africa, to most they are just works of art.
When the average person thinks of a mask they think of something that is worn over the face, but that is not exactly the case. In African culture they can be worn on top of the head as a crown of sorts and over the face. To go along with mask there are other pieces that are made from the same material that go on the chest, legs, and even arms. Many of the masks are thought to have special powers and only specific people are allowed to wear them and many are not even allowed to look at them.
As western culture has continually influenced Africa, traditional African art has lost a lot of it’s ceremonial purposes, but the art form has not. Though many African artists will mass produce masks to sell to tourist, which to some kills the art form but for many its a way to earn a livelihood, many still keep the original tradition alive by making custom masks for ceremonies.