A Tale of Two Masks from Nigeria

Q:  This is another mystery mask from my collection.
When I purchased it years ago, it was described as an old “Cross River” mask, but I haven’t been able to find anything similar in searches using that description. It appears to be old and used with surface wear, stains and multiple layers of paint.There’s a square slot and a few nails at the  top where it may have had a figure or crest attached at one time. Hoping one of your African experts can shed some light on this.  Dan, 1128

A:  The first mask shown is from the Ibibio people who live in the Cross Rivers area of southern Nigeria. It came from a reputable auction house and may have sold for a lot of money. Dan’s mask is next. As you can see, there is not much similarity. Dan and I went back and forth with several emails. In one of them he quoted a comment he got from someone on the Yahoo African Arts group who said this mask is “potentially Idoma, Ibibio-Ibo, and even Igala (Ekpo profiles)” 

What we learn from this tale is that African carvers sometimes combine the styles of two or more ethnic groups. Or they might add something purely original! After all, these guys are artists.



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