Africa

A special African mask

Q: I’ve owned this mask for around 20 years and have often wondered about its authenticity and ethnicity. Lega Bwama has been suggested, but I’m not too convinced. I think it may be a mash-up of several styles aimed for the tourist market. Very much obliged if you could give me your opinion on this. The patina is fine and it is quite nicely carved. I am only interested in African masks that are old or tribaly used. Dave, 1743

A: This is a “mash-up” meant for sales to tourists. Of the many African mask collectors throughout the world, most would like to own old, used ones. Unfortunately, almost African masks are fakes. And most people who sell African masks are dishonest. This has been going on for years.

I would not throw out this mask. It looks very African, but is not a reproduction. (Meaning it follows no traditional designs or characteristics of the tribal culture. The carver has made something that is his own creation and is a fine work of art. The African art industry would not agree with this.

Interestingly, there are a few other places in the world where ethnographic masks are sometimes created for art. I’m mostly familiar
with Mexico. Sometimes village carvers, afters supplying the dancers, shop owners, etc, will make excellent masks for the fun of it. Actually that is what art is about, but you don’t see it happen often.

Let’s start from the top of the masks we know about…
Authentic masks that have been used
New masks for use
Accurate reproductions of tribal masks artificially aged
Inaccurate reproductions of tribal masks artificially aged
Artistic masks that celebrate a culture
This last mask might be a nice idea for us to use .

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