Some masks make the person look taller than they really are, like the
Chiwara (antelope) masks. That was important in Africa because there were a
lot of wild animals there. They could frighten away their enemies by making
themselves look bigger than they really were. Eighth graders might relate to
Masks or helmets (made from grocery bags laminated with white glue) with
very tall headdress attached, like feathers or whatever. I agree that masks
are very multicultural, and good for almost any curriculum. There are
almost as many ways of making masks as there are masks.
Dolls--for voudun ceremonies--is another African thing. I'm thinking of the
doll with all the pins or nails in it. You probably wouldn't want to teach
them to do that to anyone, though.
You have to remember that historical and mythical Africa is slightly
different from African-American culture in art, which focuses more on
collage (Romaire Beardon) and story quilting, and fabulous hairdos. And
flags (sequined flags) from the New Orleans area.