African and Mexican Masks

Art-Reach Pre-Visit Activity: Art Talk

Please view the two reproductions with your class and lead a discussion using the following questions as guidelines. There are no “right” answers. The questions are meant to guide the group discussion. Students will re-visit and discuss these works as well as others during the ArtReach visit. The vocabulary in this packet will aid discussion.

Research and experience have shown that students feel more comfortable when they can connect with something familiar when the Museum educator conducts the program. The students enjoy sharing their insights from the pre-visit discussion with the educator.

African and Mexican Masks

Learning about the arts of multiple cultures can contribute to student tolerance, understanding of and appreciation for cultural differences. This visit offers an opportunity to explore artwork from Mexico and Africa and to discuss the similarities and differences among art from two countries. Students will learn about these cultures by discussing objects in BAM’s Permanent Collection and the time and place in which they were created. They will draw upon these discussions to create personal symbolic masks.

Helmet Mask, Liberia
Members of the Sande Society of the Vai culture in Africa conduct a “university in the forest” for girls with lessons on myth, history, ethics, herbal medicine and artistic expression. This helmet mask (worn on the top of the head with fiber hanging down and covering the face) communicates important spiritual and practical concerns for women through a variety of symbols that will be discussed during your visit.• What shapes, colors, textures, and patterns can you identify?
• Do you think this is a mask intended to look like a real person? Why, why not?
• How do you think the artist made it?
• What materials did the artist use?
• Do you think this mask would be comfortable to wear? 


Unknown artist, Liberia, Vai People
Sande Society Helmet Mask
20th c., wood, 16-3/4″ x 7-1/2″ x 8-3/4″
Gift of Kellie and Louis Cosho


Mexican Mask

Guerrero is a state in Mexico. Guerrero masks are often include human and animal motifs. Mexican cultures believe that the face is directly related to the soul. Covering the face with a mask is like temporarily replacing the identity and soul of the mask wearer with the identity and soul intended to be represented by the mask. How is this mask different from the Sande Society Helmet Mask?

  • How is it the same?
  • How do you think the artist made it?
  • Do you think this is a mask intended to look like a real person? Why, why not?
  • Which mask would you rather wear? Why?



Unknown artist, Guerrero, Mexico,
Mask, Human face (Borbon with Serpents),
circa 1980, painted copper, 23 1/2″ x 16″, Gift of Dr. David L. Harner

African and Mexican Masks

Exaggeration Enlarging or putting more emphasis on one or two elements of the object. Sometimes eyes may be enlarged to focus on the ability of sight, for example.
Stylized African art can be characterized by pronounced stylization. A stylized art object conforms to an idea, a pattern or a design rather than to a real appearance; it is an interpretation rather than a direct representation of the way something looks.
Realistic/Naturalistic An art object that has a photographic likeness to the real thing it is meant to represent. Most African art is not intended to look naturalistic or realistic. Traditional African artists are usually more interested in depicting an idea or the world of the unseen.
Idealized Showing what is thought to be the most beautiful elements as in the Sande Society Helmet Mask. This concept changes according to each culture’s value system. I
Traditional An art form that has been practiced by many generations, like the face masks in Guerrero, Mexico.
Symbol Mexican and African art both use many symbols, shapes and forms that an artist chooses to use to convey ideas. In western culture we often use symbols to express ideas as well. The bald eagle symbolizes our country, a white dove symbolizes peace, a red pentagon symbolizes stop.
Repoussé The art process of creating patterns in relief by hammering from the underside of metal.
Texture The way something feels to the touch or appears to the eye – spiky, smooth, rough, bumpy, soft.

ArtReach Curricular Connections
African and Mexican Masks

Teachers can adapt the following curricular connections to meet the needs of any grade level.

Social Studies, History, Geography

  • Music has played an important part in Mexican and African cultures. Play a variety of Mexican and African music and find images of Mexican and African instruments. Have students research traditional instruments, including how they were constructed and decorated to depict historic events, traditional stories, and festivals. Students can create their own instruments with decorations and write short essays about specific traditions and music.
  • Discuss the formation of pre-conquest indigenous empires in Mexico. Have students draw comparisons between these forms of governments and our modern day American democracy. Have students compare these forms of government to our modern-day democracy. Students can make short presentations about life under the various government structures by playing specific roles. (Examples: Mayan emperor, Common citizen, slave, Spanish monk, or Spanish explorer depending on the government portrayed)
  • Have students break into several groups with each group assigned a section of time in Mexican and African history. Have each group create a timeline of important events and a map that includes geographical points, major cities, points of significance, and cultural landmarks specific to their time period.
  • Learn about the foods important to Mexico and Africa. Find out about special containers and utensils that were made specifically for making foods.
  • Learn more about symbols in Mexican and African cultures.
  • Have students research the history of festivals and celebrations in Mexico and Africa. Have them write about the changes over time and other outside influences that contributed to these changes.
  • Research the use of masks in Mexican and African cultures. What do the functions reveal about the societies in which the masks originated? How does geography affect the masks? Compare and contrast the ways these societies use art with the role art plays in the students’ lives.

Reading , Writing, and Art

  • Masks are worn by dancers and are used as part of costumes to portray historical and mythical figures. Have students create masks and write stories based on a traditional story they have read or have them create their own stories related to their masks.
  • Write mask narratives. Have students place masks on their face (dentist’s or doctor’s mask, welder’s mask, catcher’s mask, Halloween mask, cultural mask) and write from the perspective of the masked façade.
  • Have students create their own picture books. They can draw images, use magazine pictures, make copies of pictures in books, or use the internet as a resource. Encourage them to use pictures that focus on the art, music and culture of Africa or Mexico.
  • Discuss myths and stories from Mexican and African cultures, then have students write their own mythological stories and create masks and costumes that include symbols from the myth. (Examples: Why the sun rises and sets, why the scorpion stings, etc.)
  • Have students pick an historical figure or artist from Mexican or African culture. Have them write an interview with questions they would ask the person. Have students trade the questions with a classmate and have the classmate write expected responses based on their new knowledge of Mexico or Africa. Then discuss.
  • Have students select a person from Mexican or African history and write a brief biography about their life and how it affected Mexican or African tradition and culture. Ask them to include important events along with terms and art they have learned about.


  • Weaving is an ancient Mexican and African craft. Have students review the basic design structures of various weaving patterns. Have students study the shapes, measure angles, and discuss the symmetry used in the designs. Have students create their own weaving patterns on paper either in groups or individually using angles and measurements from traditional Mexican or African designs. Have students compare/contrast the Mexican and African symbols and designs.
  • Have students study the architecture of Mexico and Africa. Discuss the pyramids and large structures built by the Mayans and how the remains of cities look today. Students can learn basic principles of geometry, physics, engineering, and architecture by researching the use of pyramids in ancient and modern societies.
  • Mexico and Africa are geographically diverse with fertile valleys, tropical forests, high mountain peaks, deep canyons and desert landscapes. Have students look at a variety of maps of Mexico and Africa including topographical maps to learn more about the geographies of both. Have students discuss the research, map and graph the cultural and technological developments in each area that may have been influenced by the geography.
  • Using multiple images of arts, crafts or artifacts from both cultures, sort them according to materials used, color, symbolism, etc. Compare and contrast geography, plants, animals and climate of the two countries with the students’ regions. Make graphs that chart the similarities and differences.

Science and Astronomy

  • Mayans and Aztecs developed intricate calendars and writing systems based on their scientific observation of the sky and constellations. Have students review the Mayan calendar and the glyphs used for different months and seasons. Have students compare it to our modern day calendar and months. Students can create their own symbols based on our calendar and seasons in relation to constellations or seasonal changes. Visit or for information on the Mayan and Aztec calendars.
  • Mayans developed cities with pyramids and advanced architecture. Discuss these architectural developments and explore the materials and techniques Mayans used in creating expansive cities, particularly Tenochtitlan, which had numerous bridges and levies, along with various security walls. Have students research the ancient city and Mayan advancements in architecture and science.
  • Have students find out about the types of materials used in modern day architecture in Mexico and Africa and why they were used. Discuss natural materials along with synthetic materials and which are better architecturally and environmentally.

Post-Visit Activity: MAKE IT!

To extend the ArtReach experience and connect the visit to your curriculum,
please consider using or adapting this suggested lesson.

African and Mexican Masksd
Yarn Painting: Symbols in Thread



In this activity, students explore the history and culture of the Huichol Indians of Mexico through the native art of making yarn paintings to tell stories. Students will create their own yarn paintings using easily accessible and non-toxic materials to tell a story. This project can be adapted by reading one of the African folk tales listed in the Bibliography and using African-inspired symbols in the yarn paintings to combine traditions from both Mexican and African cultures.


  • Variety of brightly colored yarn
  • 9” x12” Sticky Collage Boards ® which can be purchased from Nasco at
  • (Note: An alternative to Sticky Collage Boards would be cardboard and glue. The traditional method utilizes melted wax on board. However, the advantage of the collage board is the ease of use and clean-up.)
  • Scissors
  • Paper the same size as the sticky boards
  • Crayons, markers or colored pencils
  • Copy of the book The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer: A Huichol Indian Story by James Endredy and Maria Hernandez de la Cruz


  • Read aloud the story The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer: A Huichol Indian Story making sure to show the illustrations to the class.
  • Discuss the yarn paintings that illustrate the story including the symbolism.
  • Discuss the importance of maintaining respect for other cultures.
  • Discuss the origins of myths and folk tales. Ask students to think about the stories they know, and compare and contrast their stories with those of other cultures.
  • Ask students to use the paper and crayons, markers or colored pencils to create the plan for their yarn paintings that tell stories through the symbols they choose to use.
  • Once students are satisfied with their drawings, have them translate their drawings into yarn paintings using the sticky boards and yarn. This requires time and patience. The works may need to be completed over several working sessions.
  • Students could create a museum-style label for their yarn paintings explaining the symbolism and artworks could be displayed together on a wall to form a “quilt.” This method of display can be used as an opportunity to tie Mexican or African story telling to American story telling, as all three cultures use textiles to create stories and document important events.

This activity was adapted from a lesson on

Applications and Extensions for Yarn Painting

Reading and Writing

  • Have students research Mexican, African or American textiles in relation to story telling. Have students write brief research papers about what they learned.
  • Have students apply Mexican or African textiles to modern-day fashion and clothing. Have them write about an outfit they would create which would tell their life stories or best describe characteristics they find in themselves.
  • Select a Mexican or African folk tale to read to the students or have them read. Then have them write about how they would turn the story into a painting. Encourage them to use as much detail as possible.
  • Have students interpret a well-known story with fabric. First, have students identify and decide which of the events in the story they would like to illustrate. The selected scenes should help other students identify the story just by looking at the images. Have students present their illustrations to their classmates and have students try to identify the story. Relate the students’ experiences with storytelling and oral history.


  • Math and symmetry are often used in Mexican and African textiles and weaving. Have students measure print-outs of various textiles and record the dimensions of each and record the rations and frequency of specific shapes and patterns.

Visual Art

  • Compare Mexican and African textile art to American quilting. Have students compare the patterns found in both. Have students discuss the prominent shapes and designs in each.
  • Create a slideshow of quilts and textiles from all around the world and display it in class. Group similar time periods and regions and see how many similarities can be found.

Geography and History

  • Have students look at the variety of cultures within Mexico and Africa and compare their textiles. Have students plot on a map indicating where the textiles originated and where textile arts are still practiced.
  • Have students research areas where textiles are prominent. Have each group present a poster board project listing facts about the textiles in that area.
  • Have students research the history of clothing and fashion. How has clothing changed? How do they vary from culture to culture?

African and Mexican Masks



Arnold, Caroline. African Animals. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1997. Picture Book.
Brooks , Lester .Great Civilizations of Ancient Africa.Atheneum. 1971.
Greenfield, Eloise.Africa Dream.HarperTrophy. 1991.
Unobagha, Uzo.Off to the Sweet Shores of Africa: And Other Talking Drum Thymes. Chronicle Books. 2000.
Williams, Karen Lynn.When Africa Was Home.Scholastic. 1994.

Grades Pre-K – 3

Adlerman, Daniel. Africa Calling, Nighttime Falling. Tandem Library. 2001.
Angelou, Maya. My Painted House, My Friendly Chicken and Me. With photos by Margaret Courtney-Clarke. Pub. By Potter, 1994. Brown, Don. Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa. Houghton Mifflin. 2003.
Croze. Harvey. Africa for Kids: Exploring a Vibrant Continent, 19 Activities. Chicago Review Press. 2006.
Diakite, Baba Wague. I Lost My Tooth in Africa. Scholastic Press. 2006.
Diakite, Baba Wague. Mee-An and the Magic Serpent. Groundwood Books. 2007.
Harvey, Miles. Look What Came from Africa. Franklin Watts. 2003.
Haskins, James. Count Your Way Through Africa. Rebound by Sagebrush. 2003.
Jackson, Doris A. Animals of South Africa Coloring and Workbook. Imprints Publishing. 2003.
Keats, Ezra Jack. For You Are a Kenyan Child. Atheneum/Anne Schwartz Books. 2006.
Onyefulu, Ifeoma. A Is for Africa. Puffin. 1997.
Petersen, David. Africa (True Books, Continents). Children’s Press. 1998.
Stewart, Dianne. The Gift of the Sun: A Tale from South Africa. Frances Lincoln. 2007.

Grades 4-6

Arnott, Kathleen. Tales from Africa. Oxford University Press. 2000.
Ayo, Yvonne. Eyewitness: Africa (Eyewitness Books). DK Children. 2000.
Chu , Daniel and Skinner, Elliott. Glorious Age in Africa: The Story of 3 Great African Empires. Africa World Press. 1990.
Fish, Bruce. South Africa: 1880 to the Present: Imperialism, Nationalism, and Apartheid. Chelsea House Publications. 2000. Habeeb, William Mark. Africa: Facts & Figures. Mason Crest Publishers. 2004.
Herr, Myra. Stencils West Africa Ghana (Ancient and Living Cultures). Good Year Books. 1996.
Ibazebo, Isimeme. Exploration into Africa. Chelsea House Publications. 2000.
McCall Smith, Alexander. Folk Tales from Africa. Canongate Books Ltd. 2006.
McKissack, Patricia. The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa. Henry Holt and Co. 1995.

Junior High/High school

Agwo, Tata Thaddeus. Journey from Africa to America. 1 st Books Library. 2003.
Murray, Jocelyn. Africa (Cultural Atlas for Young People). Chelsea House Publications. 2007.
O’Halloran, Kate. Hands-on Culture of West Africa (Hands-On Culture). Walch Pub. 1997.
Egendorf, Laura K. Opposing Viewpoints Series – Africa. Greenhaven Press. 2004.
Prentice Hall. Africa: Geography, History, Culture. Pearson Prentice Hall. 2004.
Rotberg, Robert. Governance and Leadership in Africa. Mason Crest Publishers. 2006.


Bilingual Books in English/Spanish for Pre-Toddlers and Toddlers

Cisneros, Sandra. Hairs = Pelitos. Dragonfly Books. 1997.
Ehlert, Losi. Moon Rope:A Peruvian Folktale = Un Lazo A La Luna: Una Leyenda Peruana. Voyager Books. 1997.
Fogleson Guy, Ginger. Fiesta! Rayo Publishers. 2007.
Mora, Pat, Uno, Dos, Tres = One, Two, Three. Clarion Books. 2000.
Reiser, Lynn. Margaret and Margarita, Margarita Y Margaret. Rayo Publishers. 1996.
Roe, Eileen. Con Mi Hermano – With My Brother. Aladdin. 1994.
Rown Reed, Lynn. Pedro, His Perro and the Alphabet Sombrero. Hyperion. 1995.

Grades Pre-K – 3

Ada , Alma Flor. The Lizard and the Sun. Manchester, England: Dragonfly Books, 1999.
Braman, Arletter N. Secrets of Ancient Cultures: The Maya. Jossey-Bass, 2003.
Castaneda, Omar S. Abuela’s Weave. Lee and Low Books. 1995.
Dorros, Arthur. Abuela. Picture Puffins Publishing. 2000.
Dupré, Judith. Mouse Bride (A Mayan folk tale). New York, New York: Random House Value Publishing, 1995.
Endredy, James. The Journey of Tunuri and the Blue Deer: A Huichol Indian Story. Rochester Vermont: Bear Cub Books, 2003.
Heiman, Sarah. Mexico ABC’s: A Book About the People and Places of Mexico. Picture Window Books. 2004.
Johnston, Tony. My Mexico/Mexico Mio. Putnam Juvenile. 1999.
Johnston, Tony and Tomie de Paola. The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote. New York, New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1994.
Mariscal, Blanca Lopez and Enrique Flores. The Harvest Birds. San Francisco, California: Children’s Book Press, 2002.
Martinez , Alejandro Curz and Fernando Olivera. The Woman Who Outshone the Sun. San Francisco, California: Children’s Book Press, 1991.
McCunney, Michelle. Mario’s Myan Journey. Mondo Publishing, 1997.
Mora, Pat and Domi. The Night the Moon Fell. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 2000.
Ober, Hal and Carol. How Music Came to the World. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994.
Olawsky, Lynn Ainsworth. Colors of Mexico. First Avenue Editions. 1997.

Grades 4 – 6

Barron, Marietta. Two Worlds. Royal Fireworks Press, 1999.
Bulla, Clyde. Conquista! New York: Crowell Press, 1978.
Harvey, Miles. Look What Came From Mexico. Franklin Watts. 1999.
Hinshaw, Kelly Campbell. Art Across the Ages: Ancient Mexico. Chronicle Books. 2007.
Milord, Susan. Mexico: 40 Activities to Experience Mexico Past and Present. Williamson Publishing Company. 1999.
Turck, Mary C. Mexico and Central America: A Fiesta of Cultures, Crafts ad Activities. Chicago Review Press. 2004.

Junior High/High School

Coe, Michael. Breaking the Maya Code. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1992.
Coe, Michael. Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs. (Fifth Edition) London, England: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
Giffords, Gloria Fraser. Mexican Folk Retablos. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.
Katzenberger, Elaine. First World, Ha Ha Ha: The Zapatista Challenge. City Lights Book, 1995.
Mauldin, Barbara. Masks of Mexico: Tigers, Devils, and the Dance of Life. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1999.
Muller, Karin. Along the Inca Road: A Woman’s Journey Into an Ancient Empire. National Geographic Society, 2001.


Related web sites: AFRICA

For Teachers
Learn more about Africa at National Geographic’s site for the AFRICA series.
Watch wild animals in national parks and game reserves in Africa via Africam’s live camera connection.
All Africa is the web’s leading news service for Africa, providing up-to-the-minute stories each day from over 70 news organizations throughout Africa.
Read e-journals on African art, women’s issues, immigration policies, poetry and philosophy.
A one-stop shop for online African resources from Stanford University.
Find out how diamonds are fueling wars across Africa in this special report from The New York Times.
Read about Africa’s past, learn how to carve a Yoruba wood statue, or find out how the Kongo of central Africa commune with their ancestors in this exhibit from the Smithsonian.
A vast listing of web sites related to the African diaspora – from preserving traditional African cultural beliefs to a history of African Americans.
This PBS site takes a look at forces for democratic change in six African countries: Benin, Nigeria, Rwanda, Morocco, Mozambique and South Africa.
Drawing on the perspective of African historians, this BBC sites explores events, people and cultures that have shaped African history from ancient times to the de-colonization campaigns of the 1960s.
From the mosques of Mali to the pyramids of Egypt, join Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates as he explores Africa in this online companion to the 1999 PBS TV series.
Groove to the tunes of African pop music, from Madagascar to Senegal.
Learn to play West African drums via QuickTime movies, read about the history of these instruments.
The Museum of African Art offers details on current exhibits and links and resources on African art.
Learn about the African arts through rich exhibits and searchable digital collections.


Related Web Sites – MEXICO

For Teachers­_/arts.html
site highlights various artisans, writers, painters, sculptors
information not appropriate for all ages, however contains great resources and links to order DVDs.
lesson plan for making museum exhibit in class. – for elementary grades, teaches the multicultural history of America including Mexican influence.
for high school grades, student research Inca culture and learn skills with map overlay.
about Mexican culture and art through the Day of the Dead.
numerous lesson plans and resources for K-12 about Mexico.
teaches art and history of Mexico through the holiday Cinco de Mayo.
database to 185 lesson plans about incorporating Mexico into various subjects grades K-12.

focuses on celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month through lesson plans that incorporate Mexican art, culture, and history.

For Teachers and Students
numerous galleries of traditional and contemporary Mexican art.

links to various artists, Mexican art history, dance and music.
kids site with information and games about Mexico.

virtual museum of Diego Rivera.
simple site for students.
gallery, games, timeline, and essays outlining thirty centuries of Mexican art and sculpture.
site explores art, culture and history of ancient Mexico with nice maps, books, and movies for additional resources.
distinguishes the differences among Maya, Inca, and Aztec cultures, covers the history of the Aztec Empire in Mexico, and explores the Aztec language system and literature.