Africa

Rare Samo helmet mask

This piece was acquired in the field around 2001-6, measures 20.5 inches tall, and has some foam cushioning still stuck to the interior for comfort.   I just purchased this museum-quality African mask (with a nice stand and written provenance) for a little more than what a big thrift shop would charge. How is that possible?

The Samo are a small tribe located in Burkina Faso near the Malian border. Hardly anyone knows about them. Their traditional arts are not in books or museums. As a friend of mine says, the important dealers and auction houses emphasize the authentic carvings from some tribes (Baule, Dogon, Bamana, Yombe, Lega, etc.), but ignore the smaller ones (Boyo, Kusu, Atie, Mbanza, etc.) that also produce impressive artifacts.

This has a big effect on the industry that supplies the tourist and export markets. Why reproduce a mask that buyers won’t recognize? And even though authentic masks today are colorfully painted with store-bought enamel, what is destined for the market is antiqued to look old and brown. So the carvers keep cranking out what will sell. And you, dear reader, will have to work very hard to find an authentic African mask for your collection… and that you can afford.

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