Mask from the Congo

with injured lip
with injured lip

Q:  I found this mask yesterday at a thrift store here in Maryland. I think it’s African and possibly from the Chokwe people. Would you be so kind as to take a look at the attached photos and let me know. It’s 7″ L (9″ including the hanging material) and 4 1/2″ W at the widest section. The nails are rusted, and the cloth around the top and side is worn. But, of course, that may not mean very much regarding age and a “tourist” sale. If you’re unable to help, would you let me know as soon as possible so I can seek another source? Incidentally, it looks like someone tried to repair a break in the lip area. Perhaps that’s why the mask ended up in the thrift store.  Carole, 767

A:  It might be Chokwe, but I think it could also be from another tribe in central Africa– formerly Zaire and now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s handsome and very typical of that area. If the uncompleted repair is solid, I would suggest you finish it. This would be easy for anyone handy with a Dremel tool, brushes, and a set of paints. The mask is not particularly valuable even without the damage, so don’t hesitate to try the project yourself, or you can take it to a local wood carver.  B


  • Carole

    Thanks for the speedy response and the comprehensive information. I wondered about repairing it because I love the form and design. Think I’ll give it a try.

    Again, much appreciate your help and suggestion.


  • Bob Ibold

    This was forwarded to me by Carole:
    Your mask looks like a market version of a Dan deangle face mask. The paint on the face of your mask is “wrong.” It is not an old mask, and the repair, as you say, is very poor. Some of these face masks—in their traditional form—have a band across the top of the face and raffia or other attachments on the lower face.
    Here is an example of one of these Dan masks from the Brooklyn Museum—without the head band and raffia attachments.
    Here is another example showing an elaborate head band using cowries.
    This type of face mask is also made by neighboring people, the We (Wee). The Dan (and We) live in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
    Janet L. Stanley
    National Museum of African Art
    My comment:
    I don’t think she is right. Follow her two links and see for yourself.

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