Molo Mask, 1900–1930
Bobo peoples
Wood and paint
o/a: 65 1/2 × 14 × 13 1/2 inches (166.4 × 35.6 × 34.3 cm)
Gift of D. and J. de Menil in memory of Dr. Jermayne MacAgy

Habits of Mind

  • OVERCOME FEAR Overcome fear of ambiguity / fear of failure or being wrong / fear of the unknown
  • DEVELOP GRIT Develop endurance / grit / desire to rework ideas / open to a range of ideas and solutions/ possess self-discipline and self-confidence

African Art

Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Research the Bobo (Bwa), Ekpeye, and Benin cultures.

•  Locate the three cultures on maps and globes and describe the geography and climate of the region.




Social Studies


Overcome Fear

Develop Grit

Connecting to the Work of Art

This Bobo mask, from the Bobo people from Burkina Faso, pays homage to the buffalo indicated by the curved horns.  A greatly feared animal, the cape buffalo represents strength and is a symbol of the community leader.  The rounded top of this mask is a helmet that fits over the head of the wearer, with the horns rising up and the large rectangle of the buffalo’s face extending down.  The mask was probably worn during a ritual or festival by a blacksmith, craftsman, or other person of distinction of the Do society.


The painted designs on each Bobo mask are unique, thus no two masks are the same.  On this mask the tall curving horns are painted in alternating bands of red and white.  On the face, on either side of the long nose ridge, is a symmetrical design of red, blue, and white triangles.  This mask, covered entirely with geometric designs, would be freshly painted before each ceremony.


The creation of a large mask is a long task, rooted in tradition.  It begins with chopping down a small tree and carving out half of its trunk lengthwise in order to expose the finest and freshest grain of the wood.  The pigments used to decorate the mask come from natural sources such as plants and minerals.


Bobo masks represent plant-like beings, birds, animals, humans, and combinations of these.  Worn with costumes made of leaves and knotted plant fibers, masks help master the forces of nature that threaten life-sustaining food crops.  They are worn for several types of events, including ceremonies that are performed to appease the spirits of the ancestors and the spirits of nature; special ceremonies such as funerals, seasonal festivals, and the ritual purification of the village; and ceremonies initiating young men into societies, such as the Do society.  For additional information about African masks, see the Ekpeye Pangolin Headdress.


Masks are carved by specially trained craftsmen in the village, who typically do other specialized handcrafts such as ironworking.  These people enjoy a higher social status than farmers or other laborers.


•  Study the three works of art.  Review the subject of each and the use of symbols.

•  Discuss the original function of each work of art.  When were the headdress and mask worn?  Where was the plaque displayed?

•  What do these functions reveal about the three societies?  Compare and contrast the ways these societies use art with the place of art in the students’ world.


•  Have students select one of the three works of art as the focus of a research project.

•  Research that culture, including its belief systems, ceremonies and rituals, and political organization.

•  Locate the cultural group on a map of Africa.  Identify the modern country or countries in which the cultural group lives.  Research the geography, topography, and climate of the region.

•  Write a report based on the research.  Illustrate the report with a map showing the location of the cultural group.

Resources Available to Order

The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.

The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.