During the month of February, the students at Anna Julia Cooper School took inspiration from the Congo Mask exhibit at the VMFA and created masks of their own. Following the rich tradition of African mask-making, they sought to express an internal truth that may or may not be visible on the outside. This project powerfully allowed them to tap into their originality, and the results were as diverse as the children themselves. Some created split masks to display different parts of their personality, while others designed mythical creatures. Still others enjoyed representing their own likeness with that extra flair that they love about themselves.
Using donated milk jugs cut in half for a base, the students formed their masks with the help of cardboard, tape, and the wonderful properties of paper mâché. Some were ambitious enough to "sculpt" animal ears, horns, trunks, and even beaks. The creative energy in the art room was contagious and unstoppable!
The next step was to bring their features to life with acrylic paint. Adding color, patterns, and details was the favorite part for many. Finally, the students added embellishments using a wide array of materials, from shells and beans, to raffia and feathers. In keeping with the diverse region-specific styles of the Congolese masks, many of the materials were derived from the natural environment.
The masks were proudly displayed at the AJC Black History Family Night on March 1. The AJC community gathered to celebrate each others' family legacies through song, dance, poetry, family trees, and artwork. The masks made quite a splash lining an entire hallway in the school. Even students who threatened to throw their mask away at the early stage beamed to share their hard work with their family, teachers, and peers.
For the art teachers, it was a joy to see a new level of engagement and confidence emerge for many of the students. They poured themselves into this creative endeavor, and the outcome was rewarding. Even though it took a full month of weekly classes to complete, many students were sad that the project was over!
We are grateful to the VMFA, namely Kelly Armstrong and Will Neer, for arranging and conducting a fantastic tour of the Congo Masks. Thanks also to our dedicated team of volunteers (who are probably still finding glue in their hair!) and friends who donated inspiring materials. Thank you to Ross Browne for teaching the finer points of painting, to Carol Maxwell for sharing her Nigerian masks and other artifacts, and to Mary Cay Kollmansperger for her resourceful hanging solutions. Art for the Journey was so glad to be part of this celebration!