Airport art at its best

Q:  Please could you assist me.  I recently bought a number of Guro masks on an auction in South Africa.  They were part of a deceased estate.  The collection comprised Gu masks, Zamble masks and anthropomorphic masks. The variety and fine carving of these masks suggests that they represent a collection of authentic  objects.  Sharon, 1089

A:  There is a style of Guro carving that started in West Africa sometime in the 20th century that became very popular with collectors. I’ve done two other blogs on them– #765 and #977– and I know a guy who collects only these and a shop in Philadelphia that specialized in them. However, they are avoided by serious collectors of traditional African art who call them airport art, but they look beautiful on the wall. Imaging how difficult this was to carve.  B+


  • Bob Ibold

    Thank you so much for posting my mask. Yes, it is very beautiful, as are all the 15 other masks in the collection. Each mask is unbelievably different, but they always include some of the symbols of this region. I really hate the term airport mask for these beautiful objects.
    (Sharon just sent me this message. Airport art usually means cheap junk or kitsch, but there are occasions when it can become fine art.)

    • Eric

      Airport art means art that is made purely to be sold, rather than for spiritual or tribal use. It can be very skilfully made, but has no deeper meaning and as in this case, often they are treated with a fake patina to make it appear aged.

  • Dan

    When I view African art objects, I prefer to think of them as “art” or “artifact.” An art piece was made to be sold, may have modern influences, the artist may have taken some liberties with the form or subject. Artifact is a piece that was created for ritual use.

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