Posted by: MiniMonets | August 14, 2019

Paper Mache Banda Masks

Greetings Parents!

Every year, one of the last mediums I like to create with the artists is paper mache. This year I showed the artists a Banda mask from the Baga peoples of Guinea. Guinea is a country in West Africa. I explained that if we took a boat and sailed straight off the coast of Wilmington, the next big piece of land we would find would be Africa. Banda is a character that is a blend of human and animal forms. I found an example of this type of mask in the Metropolitan Museum of Art at The Banda, traditionally, is a spirit that would reveal itself only to society elders. These Banda masks are worn during ceremonies for protecting from animal or human danger to the Baga peoples. The masks are very large and are 4 feet in length. During more recent times, young boys who wear the Banda mask while dancing during the ceremonies. These masks can be worn over the face, or on top of the head. They are made by men and usually carved from wood with cloth and raffia attached. They can weigh up to 80 pounds!

I gave the artists a paper plate for them to draw what type of animal they would want for their Banda mask. We read the book Discovery Series: Africa to get an idea of some of the animals that are indigenous to the African continent. Next, I wrapped each mask in Saran wrap so that the paper mache would not stick to the paper plate. For my Elementary age students, we explored animals with horns (Elephants or Rhinos) then cut, bent, and attached paper towel rolls to our plates. Then I demonstrated how to dip our fingertips into paper mache paste. I use a mixture of half glue / half water instead of half water / half flour because the flour can mold. After dipping our fingertips, we used torn strips of newspaper to wipe off the excess glue from our fingers. This would make the strip damp enough to then lay onto the Saran Wrapped mask. Each artist was able to decide if they wanted to be able to see through their mask by leaving space for their eyes, or to completely cover their mask. Traditionally masks are made both ways. I wanted each artist to have a minimum of 2 layers of paper mache before finishing. This is because the more layers you have, the stronger the mask would be. I also shared with the artists that paper mache was actually invented by the Chinese as a way to strengthen body armor, despite it having a French name.

I found a video posted in 2008 of a Baga ceremony where they were dancing while wearing a Nimba mask. These masks are very similar in style and shape since I could not find a specific video of a Banda ceremony. We talked about what we saw in the video: Was it a happy or sad celebration? Happy! Who was dancing? The Baga Women and Children dancing with only one Man wearing the Nimba mask. What was making the music? Drums! Then, we gently pulled the paper mache off the Saran Wrap. I let each artist decide what 4 colors they wanted to paint their animal masks. 

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