African masks were given an East London facelift on Saturday when kids from the community came to Lon-art’s fun-filled class celebrating Black History Month. The all-day event, which included film screenings, a talk on African masquerades and plenty of messy mask-making, was packed with children and adults across two floors of the Idea Store at Watney Market.

For the centrepiece of the day, attendees were invited to learn about African masks by making their own. Lon-art’s team of art educators guided children through the steps of mask-making while teaching them about the culture, history and meaning of these fascinating objects. Three free activities were on offer: using recycled materials to design their very own masks, letting their creativity run wild while re-modelling clay into extraordinary faces and bringing Malian morality tales to life with hand made puppets.

The first workshop took inspiration from the work of Romuald Hazoumè, a Benin-based artist who creates masks and sculptures from recycling goods. The children showed off their artistic flare by transforming cast-off milk cartons, tin cans and empty bottles into new forms. While they seemed to already know a lot about Africa, it was a great opportunity for them to learn more and have fun while doing so.

Taking inspiration from West African Dogon ceremonies, the second activity had the kids rolling out, sculpting and then painting their own clay creations. Dogon masks are packed full of symbolic meaning and have served as inspiration for countless artists (including Pablo Picasso), so it was no surprise that our budding artisans crafted some fantastic creations too.

Finally, the kids had the opportunity to make Malian puppet culture their own by re-interpreting traditional stories. With the guidance of the Lon-art team, attendees acted out their own versions of Sogo Bo, an ancient custom of the Bamana people, which combines drama, dance and folk characters. These time-honoured but universal tales were brought to life by the enthusiasm of E1’s finest puppet masters!

A big thank you goes out to the Idea Store for providing the space and for being so helpful during the day, Lon-art team for organising a fun filled day and all the participants for their energy, enthusiasm and creativity. Lon-art have plenty more art education projects in the pipeline so it would be brilliant to see you at one of our upcoming events!

By Len Williams


Thanks to:
Tower Hamlets Council for making this event happen
Idea Store for the venue and their great support during the event
Facilitators: Verónica, Ibiye, Rantia and Ana
Photographer: Esther Ruiz de Pablos
Workshop co-designer and educator: Alinta Sara
The Lon-art team 
And Len Williams for writing about us


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