How to Make Senufo Masks

by Nora Zavalczki

Senufo masks are African masks created by artists who live in the Senufo area, which is a region in West Africa encompassing areas in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Burkina Faso and South Mali. The Senufo masks combine human and animal features and are used to communicate with dead ancestors. The original Senufo masks are carved into wood using an adzee, which is a special carving tool. However, carving a mask is an ambitious project if you are a beginner, so using a mold and paper mache or air-dry clay is easier and more practical. After painting the mask, it will have the appearance of a wooden mask.

Items you will need

  • Air-dry clay or papier mache
  • Flour or white glue
  • Scissors
  • Newspapers
  • Mold
  • Paints and paintbrushes
  • Sponge
  • Beads
  • Picture of Senufo mask
  • Balloon
  • Cardboard

Making a Mask Using Mold

Step 1

Prepare your material. If using air-dry clay knead it, so it's more malleable. If using papier mache, prepare a paste using one part flour and two parts water. Alternatively, make the paste using 3/4 cup white glue and 1/4 cup water. Cut thin strips of newspaper.

Step 2

Press the clay into the mask-shaped mold or apply several layers of paper strips dipped in papier mache paste, so that the mask has a thickness of at least half inch in any point.

Step 3

Allow the mask to harden in the mold for 15 minutes and remove the material from the mold. Allow the mask to dry for 24 hours before you proceed.

Step 4

Paint the mask. The painting on Senufo masks is minimal and you can only apply a layer of brown or apply several layers of brown and allow them to dry. Patinate the mask -- erase some paint using a sponge -- to give the mask a more authentic look. The paint should be slightly wet and you should also dip the sponge in water when you erase the paint.

Step 5

Decorate the mask using beads or trace thin lines of black paint on the forehead, cheeks and mouth area. Certain Senufa masks are decorated with raffia, other plant fibers, cotton cloth, feathers, metal and colored glass. The decoration of Senufa masks is minimalist when compared to other more colorful African masks such as the Teke moon-shaped masks or the Biombo red masks.

Making a Mask Without a Mold

Step 1

Inflate a balloon and get a picture of a Senufo mask.

Step 2

Prepare papier mache paste following the instructions in Section 1. Cut your paper strips.

Step 3

Dip paper strips in the paste and apply them to cover a half of the balloon. Apply several layers of paper, so that the mask is thick and resistant.

Step 4

Dip paper strips in the paste and apply them to cover a half of the balloon. Apply several layers of paper, so that the mask is thick and resistant.

Step 5

Cut a tear shape out of the mask, which is the main body of the mask. Cut out a circular piece, which is the mouth, and two lines at the level of the eyes.

Step 6

Cut fang-shaped cardboard decorations and glue their edges to the back of the mask, so that the fangs are visible when viewing the mask from the front. Cut a rectangular-shaped piece to decorate the top of the mask and apply it to the mask. Other designs of Senufo masks contain ears and horns.

Step 7

Paint and decorate the Senufo mask. Use beads or trace thin lines of black in the forehead, cheeks and mouth area. Certain Senufa masks are decorated with raffia, plant fibers, cotton cloth, feathers, metal and colored glass.