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 you see on the internet or in stores today are fakes.

This can be good if the seller is honest and doesn’t charge a lot. Some of the fakes are attractive, and the carefully made reproductions can be great for an educational collection.

Kim’s mask is attractive, but I would not normally post it on this site because it is misleading. It is not old and used, but has been artificially aged. Though it appears to be from the Congo region, it’s not like a Bembe, Songye, Kuba or any other culture located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is poorly carved. (Time is money, and the antiquing process takes extra effort.) Lastly, the back has been painted.

It still might look good on your wall. I wonder if one of our visitors will comment on this issue?

4 Comments

  • Bonnie Pollock

    On tourist mask from Africa
    I know nothing about masks and have never been to Africa and I understand this is not a true mask, however, I think it is something very nice to decorate with and I would hang it and enjoy it . Somebody purchased it in Africa, that is cool to me.

  • Bob Ibold

    Sorry to take so long. Bonnie makes a good point. Carving masks for sale to tourists and collectors has become an important industry for the third world. Africa produces and sells lots of beautiful masks and other folk art every day. That is indeed cool!

  • monica

    I apologize very much: I didn’t want to be rude, but here, in Europe near Africa, we have an invasion of fakes that pretend to be authentic. Sorry again.

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