Odd-ball African mask

Q:  A friend of mine acquired this mask during his trip to Stone Town, Zanzibar at a small gift shop. Mask’s height is 23 cm, width 13 cm. The wood is unknown to me, all I can say – it’s very light, but at the same time quite solid. Paint looks like some natural pigments mixed with an adhesive, something similar to tempera maybe. We believe this mask to be a typical souvenir mask, of course, however, I’m not sure if the design is based on something traditional or not. Something close to Dan beaked masks or Luba, perhaps. Hope you can clarify this.  Andrey, 1088

A:  Sometimes African masks turn up that look much different than anything you’ve seen before. It could be a blend of styles, as you suggested. Check out the labels on the rear. Can you read them? Because the photos are sharp, I think I can tell the mask was antiqued for sale to tourists. Perhaps one of our viewers will make a comment that helps to clarify.  C?


  • Andrey

    Sorry that I didn’t clarify that at the very start, but the stickers are from the new owner. They say: Tanzania (Zanzibar), 2013 and ‘Happiness’. That’s what the shop owner have said about the meaning of the mask: Happiness! Although I personally doubt that this mask symbolizes happiness. For me it’s more like something of a tricksterish kind, something not that different from the thungak mask of the Eskimo.

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