Africa

Decorative tribal-style mask from Africa

Q: I was wondering if you could help identify anything about this mask (e.g. tribe, purpose, authenticity, date of production, type of wood). I bought it at a street market in Swakopmund, Namibia in 2017, for between $100-$150. It is wood, horn, cloth and some kind of white faded pigment. Height is about 21″ or 27″ with the raffia beard. Weight is about 5 pounds. Thanks so much for any help! Chad, 1662

A: When I wrote Masks of the World in 2014, the last chapter was titled “Beginner’s Guide” and it included a section called “Different Degrees of Authenticity.” Here is number 3 of 6 paragraphs.

Decorative– This term is used to describe new masks that were made for tourist and collectors. Sometimes they are well made and quite inventive. For example, Mexican carvers often make a few non-traditional designs for the market after they have satisfied the needs of their village, bringing them extra money and the fun of creating a new character.

You can certainly say the same for thousands of African carvers. They are constantly making beautiful masks that are original and well worth collecting, like this one. Often these decorative items are inspired by stylistic characteristics from different tribal groups. This means that tribe, ceremony, place and date are irrelevant.

Please, always be careful. In this case you were lucky and paid the right amount for a well made, traditional-style mask. However, most decorative masks from Africa are sold as old, used artifacts, and the asking price is way too high for a fake. C+

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