Q: Here is what I assume is an antique, turn-of-the-century, racist, decorative mask from Japan. Just like Black Americana pokes fun at ethnic features, so does this mask. Beyond what might be the typical big lips, the creator went further to highlight nose-hairs, and crooked eyes to boot. The nose appears wider and more broad than an Asian feature, and in that way, also seems to strongly suggest Black heritage. Uniquely signed on the reverse in two colors… I’ve yet to find a translator. Its made of a hardwood, and appears to have aged patina within its shellac coating. Its a bit smaller than a typical mask… and fits my 4 year old son perfectly. The Japanese love to highly nature wood grain, the fact that this mask as a dark, almost black, seems to further attest to its original intent. I am an advocate to protect and preserve, items like these as a reminder not to repeat history. If not turn-of-the-century, there is a highly likelihood that this mask is from a war time era, ca1930s, where there was a heighten fear of foreigners. Nate, 711
A: This mask could go viral! It reminds me of the Elvis Presley mask made by a Chewa carver in Malawi, Central Africa, which you can see at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. This is an ethnographic mask that people would certainly talk about. But before you can give or sell it to an important museum, more research is needed. I would start with the two-color calligraphy on the rear. What does it say? Does the type script suggest a particular time period? I hope that some of the Asia art collectors will offer a few comments as well. For a Japanese wood carving it is of below normal quality, perhaps something made to sell at a low price.
Categories: East Asia