• Africa

    Tourist mask… from Africa or Asia?

    Q:  I am sincerely hoping you can help solve a 25 year mystery. When I picked up this mask in a junk shop in Yorkshire for £5 the shop owner ‘wanted it out’. In all those years I have searched until I have gone mask blind and never found anything similar. Could you please shed some light on it’s origins, is it ritualistic? It is finely carved, yet the pentagram on the forehead looks crude and possibly added later. Could it have had a stick at the bottom to hold over the face? The only fastening marks are where I removed vintage electrical wire used for hanging. I love it…

  • Africa

    Contemporary African masks are rejected.

    Mende Ode-Lay mask from Sierra Leone, Bobo butterfly mask from Burkina Faso, and the Dogon traditional mask from Mali were all used in the 21st century. They are truly authentic, and well made. I believe all three should be in collections, or famous museum with displays of African art. African traditional art has always evolved. Today masks are made with steel tools, painted with bright enamel, and often decorated with store-bought materials. Right now you can buy them for a very reasonable price. Almost all of the masks, as well as other carvings, put on the market today are supposed to look old and used. They are neither. What you…

  • Africa

    Is masquerade still alive in Africa?

    Yes. Though painted with store-bought colors, some of the masks used today do not look much different than those from a 100 years ago. Others, like the five I’m showing today, are different. African folk art is changing just like so many other things. After all, the continent has experienced colonization, Christianity, Islam and urbanization. These are being used now in there respective cultures. They are not meant to be sold as collectibles for white people. We call them modern traditional art and they are hard to find on the internet or anywhere else. Most of what we see for sale today are poorly carved masks that try to look…

  • Africa

    Water spirit mask from Niger delta

    Yoruba-Ijebu mask (24 inches long) for the Ekine cult, depicting the water spirit Igodo from the Wests African country of Nigeria was sold at  Sotheby’s. I believe these people are also referred to as Ijaw.  The Niger river dominates their region. The mask is often worn on the top of the head of a man walking in deep water. Then all you can see is this strange creature gliding across the river. I’ll bet you would like one of these on your wall. Don’t worry– you can sometimes find affordable reproductions on the internet. A Nigerian water spirit is a must for any African mask collection. This mask is a…

  • Africa

    Reproductions of African masks can be collectible

    Q:  I own a what I believe is a Dan mask which has been in the family for quite some time now. It has been much appreciated but now in search of a new home. Was wondering if you could tell me some things about the mask.   Dagomar, 1449 A:  Thanks for the excellent photos. Your Dan is the deangle type, with the familiar slit eye holes and vertical ridge on the bulging forehead. It is considered by the Dan to be very feminine. Even though it is a reproduction that could have been carved someplace other than Liberia or the Ivory Coast, it makes a great impression with it’s…

  • Africa

    Baule mask from West Africa

    The Baule were a tribe that originated in the present day Ivory Coast area in Africa many years ago.  The Baule assimilated a number of their neighbors’ masquerade forms: a naturalistic face mask, a horned helmet mask, and a flat circular mask called kple kple. The last of these, a male mask of junior rank, is one of several paired works that would perform sequentially in Goli society entertainments or funerals. It impersonates an unruly nature spirit that is considered to be both frightening and amusing. The flat, disk-shaped face with ringed eyes and rectangular mouth is surmounted by ears and large curving horns. The bold red coloring has contrasting…

  • Africa

    Complex African traditional art

    The character represented in this mask, Banda (also called Kumbaruba by some Baga groups), is a complex composite of human and animal forms. The long horizontal headdress is composed of the face of a human being and the jaw of a crocodile, whose angular teeth are visible along the side of the mask. The human face is characterized by Baga scarification marks as well as a woman’s elaborately braided coiffure. The top of the headdress features the horns of an antelope, the body of a serpent, and the tail of a chameleon. Banda headdresses are quite large; this example measures just over four feet in length. Yet despite their unwieldy…

  • Africa

    What is the value of a mask?

    Q:  I am inquiring on behalf of the owner of an art gallery in South Africa who has this mask in their collection. It was acquired from an informal trader. Not sure of price, but not more than a few hundred. Any info welcome. I only have one photo.  Leigh, 1432 A:  This looks like an old wooden mask from the Salampasu people who live in south-central Democratic Republic of Congo. Similar masks are often covered with small sections of sheet metal. This could be an old, used mask of considerable value, but without front, side and rear views at higher resolution, I can’t tell. I have seen many of…

  • Africa

    Spectacular Igbo mask from Africa

    This masterpiece was carved in the North West Region of Nigeria in the late 19th or early 20th century out of one piece of wood. It is 23 inches tall. ● Rediscovered Masterpieces of African Art, Dapper Museum, 1987, p. 155 ● African Art in American collections, W.M. Robbins & N.I. Nooter, 1989, no. 677 ● Facing the Mask, Franck Herreman, Museum for African Art, New York, 2002, no. 30 You can read more about this famous mask in any of the above books. This mask is one of the most complex and carefully carved wood sculptures I have ever seen. Also read about the Igbo people and their art. There are over 500…

  • Africa

    Bamun mask from the Grasslands

      Q:  Can you help me identify this wood carved mask. The mask is about 13-1/2” at the widest part and 19” in height from chin to top of head.  My uncle purchased it from an artist in Honolulu in 1990.  Ben, 1416 A:  The masks comes from an important area that has distinctive masks and other folk art. The Grasslands of Cameroon are composed of three ethnic groups with ancestors in common. There are the one million Bamileke spread over the southwestern plateaus, in communities that have from 50,000 to 100,000 people; the 500,000 Bamenda-Tikar in the north; and, finally, the Bamum in the northwest, with a population of…