• Africa

    Puno maiden spirit mask

    Q: I bought 5 carved wooden masks from an estate sale in 2008 for about $10 each. I knew nothing about masks and didn’t receive any info about them when I purchased them. I just knew I really liked them. (The sale was like an indoor “yard sale” for an dear gentleman who died–had traveled a lot and collected a lot of art/objects from this travels. They all look old, none are ornate, none have any bright colors (natural colors, not much painting), 4 have faces roughly of this one’s shape but one has a round face with raffia bears.This mask’s size: about 13″ tall, 7″ wide, 5″ deep at…

  • Africa

    One of my favorite masks… Chewa

    As a long-time mask collector I’m going to occasionally blog about an ethnic group I am especially attracted to. Let’s start with the Chewa people of Malawi in East Africa. Their Nyau masks are different and come as a surprise every time. Though often quickly made, they are always a showpiece of creative art. The four shown here represent lesser characters in a dance. They a readily available and, even though authentic, can be bought for a affordable price. The Chewa have larger masks of gods and spirits which are rarely sold. Chewa masks are not popular with most collectors or museums. They are often omitted from collections and books.…

  • Africa

    African Lulua mask with holes

    Lulua is an umbrella term which refers to a large number of peoples who populate the region near the Lulua River. It is in the Congo basin situated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people number 300,000 and live in small regional chiefdoms and in times of crisis elect a common leader. The role of the village chief is to insure juridical, political and social cohesion. The heterogeneous composition of the people and the considerable area they occupy, explain the many stylistic overlappings with their neighbors. The formal and functional diversity of the masks testifies to the region as an ethnic crossroads and sometimes makes it difficult to confirm…

  • Africa

    Goli mask from West Africa

    Q: My uncle bought this in Africa in 1969. Sadly, one horn is broken and has a metal staple holding it together. Not sure when it broke, probably years ago. It’s 17 by 10.5 inches. David, 1503 A: Goli masks from the Ivory Coast are a favorite of tourists and collectors. They never represent the ancestors and are always worn by men. Goli is the day-long spectacle that normally involves the whole village and includes the appearance of four pairs of masks, music played on special instruments, and, ideally, the joyous consumption of a great deal of palm wine. Goli can be performed both as an entertainment and for the…

  • Africa

    Chokwe Pwo mask of Angola or DRC

    Q:  I’m very excited about this submission! When I bought this mask I was told it is from Mali. The seller claimed it to be as old as 200 years but I have a hard time believing that (the red fabric presents an elastic hinge and I’m quite sure it comes from a modern garment). Besides it  cost me only 100 euros. The face piece is wood, but I can’t tell which kind. It has burlap parts, hay, sea shells, and feathers on top. Could it be a Dogon dance mask? Thank you for any info or opinion you will share!  Gianluca, 1495 A: I’m excited too… but sellers of…

  • Africa

    Why we collect masks

    We collect for two reasons: art and anthropology. Some collectors lean toward one or the other, but it’s the combination of the two that is so enjoyable. Art can be many things. In the case of most masks it is both sculpture and painting. When the artists of Europe in the 19th century first saw masks imported from West Africa, they were stunned. Gradually the style of modern art began to change on both sides of the Atlantic. I love the beauty of tribal masks and that is the first thing I look for. Anthropology is equally important. Exactly in what culture was the mask used or meant to be…

  • Africa

    Punu Mukuyi mask from Gabon

    This white-faced maiden is sometimes mistaken for a character from the Japanese Noh theater. It is from the Musee du quai Branli and is one of the best Punu masks I have ever seen. Think how this highly abstracted sculpture would have shocked European artists in the late 19th century. The Punu were originally part of the Luango kingdom of Angola in the 18th century, and settled in south and southwest Gabon. In the Mukuyi society it represented a female guardian spirit in the funerary rites, initiation of adolescent girls and ancestral cult. At the burial ceremonies of this Punu society the mask represented a female ancestor. This mask has…

  • Africa

    Bobo mask from Burkina Faso

    Q:  I recently received a mask gift from my dad. He picked it up at an antique shop in Michigan that recently acquired a world traveler/collector’s collection. They didn’t have much info on it other than the collector likely picked it up in Africa on one of his trips. From what I’ve found online, it appears to be Bobo tribal mask of a buffalo and bird combo. All signs of wear, age and old smell point to it being authentic. Do you have any thoughts on this one? Value? Much appreciated!   Adam, 1488 A:  You researched this attractive mask well. If it was meant to be a mix of animals, …

  • Africa

    African mask missing its jaw

    Q:   Here are three pictures of a partial mask, as the lower part is missing.  We paid $15 dollars for it, and assume it is a tourist knockoff, but it looks interesting.  Fred, 1487 A:   I like the mask too.  It might even be real. Hard to think they would make a carving for tourists that is missing its reticulated jaw. Masks like this are made by the Dan, Kran and Guere people in Liberia and Ivory Coast. Look it up on Google images and you can learn more. I must now leave for a week-long trip.  B Correction:  I think I was too fast on this one. It…

  • Africa

    Bundu mask for women

    Q:  I recently became interested in a collection of African masks and have brought a few books on the subject. Unfortunately, I’m still pretty lost on dating and evaluating them. I saw few masks at an estate sale and am wondering if you can give me some guidance. The mask I like most is this one. I’m wondering if I should bid on it?  Name withheld, 1486 A:  Bundu masks, created in the 19th and 20th centuries in Sierra Leone, were crafted by men, but worn by women during Sande Society initiation masquerades. These masks represent the importance of women in Mende society, as well as the emphasis on adhering…