Souvenirs vs. Traditional Art

Senufo mask
Senufo mask

Q:  Another mask I found recently. I don’t know anything about it other than it is sand cast metal, I believe.  Dee, 784

A:  You can see a similar African mask that I posted Feb 8. Your mask is also called a Kpelie and comes from the Senufo people of Ivory Coast. These refined face masks represent women, are danced by men, and are usually associated with the Poro association. Called Beautiful Lady or Kpelie, they come with many variations, with rich and complex symbolism. At that time I went on to say, “Yours is especially nice. It’s designed very well and is carefully carved.”

Today I must point out some important differences. Yours is a bronze casting. The original shape was made too quickly or by someone without much skill. It also appears to have been antiqued to make it look old. Could have been manufactured in a shop or foundry located somewhere else in Africa. It is not really a mask because it is for display rather than wearing.

The production of masks and other carved objects is an important source of income for many Africans. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of these items have high artistic quality or some other virtue.  C-

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