The Stanley School Programs Masks Collection features masks from Africa and the indigenous Americas. Two excellent masks from the Northwest Coast of Canada will expose students to contemporary artists Janice Morin and Deon Louie, whose use of the distinctive formline technique in their carving and painting connects them to generations of Canadian First Peoples wood carvers. Numerous examples from West Africa include a towering plank mask from the Bwa people (Burkina Faso), a Sande Society mask from the Mende people (Burkina Faso), and two Poro Society masks from the Senufo people (Cote d’Ivoire), all of which demonstrate the stylistic diversity and rich history of visual interpretation found in across African art traditions.

Used in religious observances, celebrations, and change of life ceremonies, these works were created by artists and craftsmen as part of dynamic, inherited traditions of art making that stretch across generations. Equally important is the complex symbolism present in these objects. Students will explore both style and substance during a presentation with the Masks collection because our teaching emphasizes inquiry and discovery. We rely on discussion-based methods and hands-on opportunities to engage students with the objects, and further, to uncover and interpret the ideas that they represent. This collection mixes the contemporary with the historical, allowing students to see how cultures grow and change through contact with other groups and in response to internal developments. Students will gain insight into how masks are used in crafting identities, social structures, and projecting political power and authority while building their own skills in critical thinking, visual literacy, and communication.