Q: Bob, I always avoid African stuff… that said this one caught my attention as being authentic. Figured I would share. (This was an ebay auction identified as African– possibly Chokwe or from somewhere in the Congo.) Nathan, 657
A: It is African but a Mfon Ekpo mask from Ibibio people of Southeastern Nigeria. Because you think it is authentic let’s talk about that. Authentic means masks that have been used in the culture. But there are different levels of authenticity. The masks sold by major auction houses to rich collectors and museums come with written documents of previous ownership called provenance. Then there are identical pieces with no documentation sold by reputable dealers who believe they are authentic. Then there are this kind, ones we are not sure of. And finally, at the bottom, are reproductions that have been carefully made and artificially aged to appear authentic. The quality of all four levels can be equally good. In fact, both museum curators and tribal art dealers sometimes mistake reproductions for authentic artifacts. Some of the craftsmen who make them are very skilled.