• Africa

    Lele mask from DRC

    Q: I purchased this in DRC in 2010. Ben, 1533 A: Normally I need to get more information from people who want me to identify their Mystery Mask. No problem here. I know exactly what this one is. I found that AfricaDirect.com has an almost identical piece for sale. Here’s what they have to say. I haven’t changed their spelling. Like Ben’s mask, their Lele is a carefully made reproduction you can buy for a low price. An equally handsome authentic version of the same mask could not be afforded by 99% of us. The Leele live in the confluence of the Sankuru and Kasai Rivers in territory which adjoins…

  • Africa

    Rare Bindji mask from DRC

    Q: This mask does have some history. Me and my father worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While there we purchased a few masks, some of which are tourist pieces, but every now and then we got a good one. This one was given to us as a farewell present when we left. But I have no info about where it is from and if or not it is old. Judging by the wood it dose have some age to it. It also seams to have been repaired at some point. The repair is one of my favorite features of it. Here are some pictures. Please let me know…

  • Africa

    Kota reliquaries are often in mask collections

    That is because they’re so beautiful. This abstract sculpture would have stunned the great European artists of the 19th century. The Kota live in villages comprising two or more clans. Clans in turn comprise several lineages or family groups that trace their descent from a common lineage ancestor. This is an important point related to their art, for like the Fang, the Kota revere the relics of ancestors. Ancestor worship formed the core of the family group’s religious and social life. At the death of a chief, the initiates would take from the body of the deceased various relics, which were then decorated with metal and rubbed with powders of…

  • Africa

    Big Bedu plank mask

    The Bedu mask is one of the largest masks in Africa and is from the Bondoukou region of Ivory Coast. They are usually from 4 to 8 feet tall and can weigh almost 100 pounds. The mask is generally danced once a year at New Year festivities, but can also appear a harvest festivals and funerals. Only strong young men can manage these performances. This one is about 5 feet tall. Note how small the eye holes look on the middle of the shield. The black and white pattern would be quite an attention-getter when it was new. These unique plank masks make strong abstract statements and have been compared…

  • Africa

    Perfect reproduction of Tsogo mask

    Q: Since you were talking about African masks, I would like to show you this one I bought from a collector some years ago. He sold me it as Tsogo, but I’m not sure if it’s Tosgo or Igbo. Previously I thought it was original but now, as I’ve been attending your site, I’m not that sure. Could you help me please? Monica, 1526 A: Your mask almost looks like an authentic Tsogo. The carver must be very skillful and well trained to make a reproduction that looks so old and used. This is what one of the best tribal art dealers (Hamill) has to say about a similar mask…

  • Africa

    Authentic Bembe mask from DRC

    The previous blog features a fake that could be mistaken for a real Bembe masks. Take a good look. You can greatly enlarge both scans to study the detail. Collecting African masks can be a challenge! This authentic mask came from the Cleveland Museum of Art and would cost many thousands of dollars. The previous mask cost ten dollars. Perhaps a good compromise would be a well made reproduction. The Bembe originate from the northwest forests of Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are representative of numerous ethnic traditions including Lega, pre-Lega, Boyo-Kunda, and Bemba. They are a tough and proud people who absorbed other populations and their systems of…

  • Africa

    Cheap tourist mask from Africa

    Q: I liked this old African mask when I saw it in a thrift shop recently for only ten dollars. Can you tell me anything about it? Kim, 1522 A: As African tourist masks go, this is pretty attractive, and you got it very cheap. That’s nice if you’re just looking for wall decor. But if you paid a lot more because they told you it was once used in a tribal ceremony, you were cheated. This has been happening in Africa for over 100 years. It has become an important industry giving carvers a decent living, and it’s not going to go away. Almost all of the African mask…

  • 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…