The Mask Man:
The first photo was shot at a Dogon village ceremony, the second one is a recently made fake. Authentic African masks are found in museums and high-end galleries– not at local auctions and yard sales. I Googled “African tribal masks” and looked carefully at about 300 images. Only 16 were authentic! I wasn’t too surprised. The Mask Man has been looking at photos of mystery masks sent in to this website for almost 20 years. I answer all of the emails but only post about 10% nowadays. As I have said before, if you buy a mask in Africa or anywhere else, assume it was made for sale– not for use
Traditional African masks are one of the elements of great African art that have most evidently influenced European and Western art in general; in the 20th century, artistic movements such as cubism, fauvism and expressionism have often taken inspiration from the vast and diverse heritage of African masks. Influences of this heritage can also be found in other traditions such as South- and Central American masked Carnival parades.
African masks are used in rituals and ceremonies. Usually, the mask is worn by a dancer or participant in the process rather than a spectator. Some masks are worn by men, while others by women. Some forms are worn by both genders. In general, masks tend to represent spirits or beings important to the ritual in which the mask in used. The wearer of the mask is often believed to be able to communicate to the being symbolized by it, or to be possessed by who or what the mask represents.
To African cultures, masks aren’t playthings or decorations. They might serve an important role in rituals or ceremonies to ensure a good harvest, address tribal needs in time of peace or war, or convey spiritual presences in initiation rituals or burial ceremonies. Some masks represent the spirits of deceased ancestors. Other symbolize totem animals, creatures important to a certain family or group.