ArtsConnectEd/ArtsNet Minnesota

Art and Artists
 Africa, Sierra Leone
 Chuck Close
 James Ensor
 Frank Gehry
 Robert Gwathmey
 Marsden Hartley
 Pepón Osorio
 James Rosenquist
 Ernest Whiteman

Inner Worlds What is Art?  Environment  Designing Spaces and Places
Africa, Sierra Leone
Discussion Questions/Activities

The lines around the eyes and mouth of the face on this mask represent scarification marks. Why might Mende women want these marks on their faces? In what ways have you seen Americans decorate their faces?

This mask is not a portrait of a particular woman but rather a generalized symbolic mask representing Mende womanhood. What qualities of womanhood does this mask suggest are admirable in Mende society? What qualities of inner beauty are suggested by this mask?

Africa, Sierra Leone, Sande Society Mask
Africa, Sierra Leone, Sande Society Mask

What does this mask tell you about the personal identity of its wearer? Do you think it is considered more important for a Mende woman to fit into her cultural role or to be a unique individual? Why?

What kinds of initiation ceremonies are a part of your own culture? In what ways are they similar to the Sande Society initiation? In what ways do they differ? In what way are initiations part of growing up?

Ideas of Womanhood: Representing the Ideal
This mask represents qualities an ideal woman should have in the Mende culture and helps communicate these values to young girls. Are these same traits considered ideal in all cultures? What qualities of womanhood does American society value? How are these values communicated? Do a drawing or collage that expresses your ideal of womanhood.

Lessons in Life
* Read A Walk to the Jetty , a short story by Jamaica Kinkaid.
How will you know when you have reached adulthood? What kinds of skills will you need? What experiences or events help you become an adult? Recall an experience that caused you to change or grow in some way. Write an essay about your experience. Did you learn any important lessons, which might help you as an adult?

Praise Poems
Praise poems are a tradition in many West African countries. Praise poems raise someone to a place of honor by making the community aware of the person's accomplishments. Praise poems usually include:

  • a person's family
  • a person's physical or social abilities, including those of his/her ancestors
  • many references to nature
  • metaphors

Write a praise poem commemorating something you or someone close to you have accomplished. Start by describing the accomplishment. Note how you felt on that day, what you looked like, and a relative or friend who may have helped you. Examples of praise poems can be found in Leaf and Bone, by Judith Gleason, New York: Viking Press. 1980.

A Survey About Adulthood
What does it mean to be an adult in America? Ask your classmates what they think. Consider:

  • Who will you survey? How will you decide whom to survey?
  • How many people will you survey?
  • What questions will you ask? How will you ask them?

You may want to give people several statements and ask them whether they agree or disagree. Chart responses on a graph.

Women's Roles
What roles do women play in Mende society? Compare the importance of women in Mende society to other West African cultures. How are the women's roles different from those of other West African cultures?

Initiation Throughout the World
Initiation ceremonies into society exist in many cultures. Choose four different world cultures and research their initiation practices. (Margaret Mead's Growing up in New Guinea, for example, portrays the initiation rites of adolescent males and females in New Guinea) What do these ceremonies have in common? In what ways do they differ? What can you tell about the values of each culture by studying its initiation practices?

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Discussion/Activities, About the Artist, About the Art, Teacher Lessons

Inner Worlds | What is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons