Native America

Iroquois false face mask

Q: Hi again, hope you don’t mind to share your comment on this small 15 cm high mask that I bought at an auction last month in Amsterdam. Price was 250 euro. It was sold as a Iroquois false face mask from the fifties. I’m very pleased with this mask. Great carving and expression I think. Marc, 1640

A: I think this is an especially well made example. It’s a shame you don’t have more information. With Iroquois and most other Native American mask the question of authenticity can be very complicated.

“The False Face Society is probably the best known of the medicinal societies among the Iroquois, especially for its dramatic wooden masks. The masks are used in healing rituals which invoke the spirit of an old hunch-backed man. Those cured by the society become members. Also, echoing the significance of dreams to the Iroquois, anyone who dreams that they should be a member of the society may join.

“In modern times, the masks have been a contentious subject among the Iroquois. Some Iroquois who are not members of the False Face Society have produced and sold the masks to non-Native tourists and collectors. The Iroquois leadership responded to the commercialization of this tradition and released a statement against the sale of these sacred masks. They also called for the return of the masks from collectors and museums. Iroquois traditionalists object to labeling the masks as simply “artifacts” since they are not conceived as objects but the living representation of a spirit.” (Wikipedia)

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