Authentic and Tourists African Tribal Masks

A true African tribal artist, is one who has benefited from years of apprenticeship, guidance and practice. He has been learned specific carving techniques and most importantly, the spiritual significance of his craft. He is highly respected and revered by his tribe because of the significance that his work plays in tribal life. One of his most important tasks, is the creation of the tribal masks, sculptures and figures that are used in various ceremonies, rituals and initiations of the tribe.

African artistry has a very important spiritual as wells a aesthetic role in the community. It is this spiritual aspect that makes the African tribal masks, sculptures and figures so important. Today, these masks, and other African tribal art are still created, but mostly to sell for profit to tourists and to collectors who are unable to select the authentic ones from the fakes. Most of these masks and various pieces of art, lack the spiritual, ceremonial or ritual significance that the prior ones did. They are also crafted at a much lower quality, mostly because they are mass produced. Before purchasing a tribal mask, one should ask who made the mask, for what purpose, and how the mask was the made. Some of these masks may still exhibit good craftsmanship, however the spiritualness behind the mask is often lacking.

There are different levels of inauthentic African tribal masks and artwork. You have those sold at airports, street fairs, street corners and souvenir shops that are coarsely make and carved with the sole purpose of making a little profit. These masks show only rudimentary craftsmanship and are worth very little. Next you have more upscale masks and artwork that is crafted to look aged and to appear as if they have been used in rituals or tribal ceremonies. It usually takes an expert to tell the difference. Then you have the authentic masks and figures. These are the ones that have excellent craftsmanship and expert carvings, and which have actually be carved with the intent to serve as spiritually significant to the tribe and has been used in actual ceremonies and rituals.

When attempting to determine if an African tribal mask is authentic, meaning it was created to be used ritualistically, there are several guidelines that you must follow.

  • Use a trusted Art Dealer: Some dealers will attempt to pass off fake, or tourist-level African tribal masks as the real thing, while others will try to fool you with more sophisticated fakes. Find a dealer with a good reputation and then stick with him or her.
  • Consider the carvings: Are the carvings intricate, did the design obviously require a lot of skill? Does the patina look right?
  • Consider the markings: Is the masks worn down in the right places.
  • Consider the rarity: Does the piece appear to be rare, or have you seen a ton, mass produced ones just like it.?
  • Consider the source: Where did this mask come from. Who owned it before the dealer. Does the dealer have prestige? Has the piece been featured in print?
  • Compare: Compare the piece to other similar ones. How does it fit in? Does it appear authentic in comparison.
  • Try to learn to be an expert yourself- go into many galeries and ask, why the items for sale are authentic, take the objects into your hand and turn them around and around. Go into museums, but don’t be disappointed, because many pieces look not used and you can’t look at them from all sides. A good lesson you will get when you can discuss a collection with someone who has experience. When you try to buy at a fleemarket ,soon you will find out, it is very often necessary to smell, whether there is fresh painting or a patina coming from perhaps chicken excretions. If you see dust from the origin of use, it looks good, but most probably there is a hole below or there is a modern patina.
  • Best is to have a dealer you trust and you are an expert yourself


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