• India & Himalayas

    Nice Mahakala mask from Tibet

    Q:  I collect different items that I like. I started with african masks and continue with others. Here I would like to show one of the three masks that I prefer (guess they are from Nepal). They are made of strong papier mache.  Monica, 1497 A:  Mahakala is a tantric Buddhist deity of the Vajrayana tradition. He is one of the most important protector of dharma, and considered to be the wrathful and fierce emanation of Avalokiteshvara and Cakrasaṃvara. Mahakala is also worshiped by Hindus as an ultimate manifestation of Lord Shiva  and consort of Kali (Maha-Kali) representing the destructive power of Brahman. The common element of the Mahakala mask…

  • Unknown

    Popular tourist mask from somewhere

    Q:  I’d like to know more about where this mask is from. I received it as a gift from a guy who didn’t know anything about it. It looks like horse hair around the mask.  Tim, 1496 A:  People have sent  many of these masks to me over the years. I always answer with a disappointing “I think its a tourist mask from somewhere in Asia.” Maybe one of our viewers can remember where they are made.

  • Africa

    Chokwe Pwo mask of Angola or DRC

    Q:  I’m very excited about this submission! When I bought this mask I was told it is from Mali. The seller claimed it to be as old as 200 years but I have a hard time believing that (the red fabric presents an elastic hinge and I’m quite sure it comes from a modern garment). Besides it  cost me only 100 euros. The face piece is wood, but I can’t tell which kind. It has burlap parts, hay, sea shells, and feathers on top. Could it be a Dogon dance mask? Thank you for any info or opinion you will share!  Gianluca, 1495 A: I’m excited too… but sellers of…

  • Africa

    Why we collect masks

    We collect for two reasons: art and anthropology. Some collectors lean toward one or the other, but it’s the combination of the two that is so enjoyable. Art can be many things. In the case of most masks it is both sculpture and painting. When the artists of Europe in the 19th century first saw masks imported from West Africa, they were stunned. Gradually the style of modern art began to change on both sides of the Atlantic. I love the beauty of tribal masks and that is the first thing I look for. Anthropology is equally important. Exactly in what culture was the mask used or meant to be…

  • India & Himalayas

    Help identify a mask. India?

      Q:  Please identify. I need help if you can.  Marion, 1493 A:  I found this mask to be quite interesting. The material of construction is unrecognizable, none the less, it is well made and something that is authentic tribal art. Once I saw a heavy wood mask from southern India that looked much different but had the same pitchfork symbol on its forehead. Is the red character on the left rear a clue? Otherwise, this mask is a total mystery to me. Incidentally, Marion didn’t leave a correct email address so I could not ask her the usual what, where, when and how much. Please enlarge the photos and…

  • Misc

    Mexican decorative masks, collectible or not?

    Q:   I have a mask bought in Mexico (Playa del Carmen) from a collector for ~$60 CAD. The mask is made of wood and has goat horns. The seller claimed it was used by a dancer but I cannot remember where. It has holes on the back that appear to be for wearing. I am wondering what you think of this mask, and I am unsure where it would be from. If you have anything else to say about this mask I’d be happy to hear it, its my first and only mask in my collection so far.  Trevor, 1492 A:  Your mask is called a decorative. It is…

  • Europe

    Bulgarian kukeri masks

    In a practice dating back millennia, Bulgaria’s kukeri dancers don dramatic costumes to dispel evil and invite good. The ritual is a public one, profoundly ancient, full of spectacle and metaphor. Around early winter or midwinter, groups of kukeri (pronounced KOO-kuh-ree) don elaborate costumes—complete with fantastical masks and belts of massive metal bells—and accompany musicians throughout the village, dancing rhythmically to drive away evil and invite good. They are “multipurpose” rituals: The bells clanging and the costumes shocking faces divert the evil eye, but the mummers’ dancing path throughout the village also invoke the fertility of people, animals, and agriculture. Kukeri rituals have also served as coming-of-age ceremonies for young…

  • Africa

    Punu Mukuyi mask from Gabon

    This white-faced maiden is sometimes mistaken for a character from the Japanese Noh theater. It is from the Musee du quai Branli and is one of the best Punu masks I have ever seen. Think how this highly abstracted sculpture would have shocked European artists in the late 19th century. The Punu were originally part of the Luango kingdom of Angola in the 18th century, and settled in south and southwest Gabon. In the Mukuyi society it represented a female guardian spirit in the funerary rites, initiation of adolescent girls and ancestral cult. At the burial ceremonies of this Punu society the mask represented a female ancestor. This mask has…

  • Bali & Java

    Balinese masks, the most dramatic

    In a post on Nov 18 called “6 Mexican Devil masks” I wrote:  “In my opinion African masks are the most artistic, Japanese the best made, and Mexican the most creative.” A few days later this comment arrived:  “I think we need to give a mention to Balinese masks. Having spent some time with mask makers in Ubud*, I think their quality and the dedication they put to their masks is on par with the Japanese, and their artistry is equivalent to that of Africa.” I agree. Look at this fabulous version of Hanuman, the white monkey god. His honest personality and magical powers make him an important character in…

  • Africa

    Bobo mask from Burkina Faso

    Q:  I recently received a mask gift from my dad. He picked it up at an antique shop in Michigan that recently acquired a world traveler/collector’s collection. They didn’t have much info on it other than the collector likely picked it up in Africa on one of his trips. From what I’ve found online, it appears to be Bobo tribal mask of a buffalo and bird combo. All signs of wear, age and old smell point to it being authentic. Do you have any thoughts on this one? Value? Much appreciated!   Adam, 1488 A:  You researched this attractive mask well. If it was meant to be a mix of animals, …