Masks, Sculptures and Artifacts
"Power" and African Masks, Sculptures and Artifacts
The word "power" is increasingly becoming the selling point for African artifacts - "power" this, "power" that! Power is fast replacing the old "patina" and before that, "veneer". Remember those? They were the point words sprang forth when one desired to demonstrate the authenticity, age and/or beauty of the artifacts in question. Today, that word has become "power".
And yet relating power to African spirits may be entirely accurate but only when used with the understanding of the societal, cultural and contextual underpinnings. Using the word "magic", would have been more appropriate for this discussion. After all that is what old Africans thought of their spirits - magical! They believed their spirits had supernatural qualities - those qualities that cannot be quantified. But the word "magic" as it relates to African spirits has today been so misrepresented and misunderstood, that for the purposes of this text, we would stay with the word, "power".
It is worth noting that those Africans believed their spirits helped them navigate their lives, if not drive them, and so they went to great lengths to maintain and perpetuate that "power". Rites, rituals and ceremonies were core components of their spiritual practices.
Systems were set up through graded secret societies for men to gain knowledge. Education and acquisition of knowledge was life long. Sacred, elaborate, regimented and regulated rites, rituals and ceremonies were established and practiced at determined intervals for on going maintenance and care. Supervision for strict conformity by each sect was provided by the leaders, elders or Chief of masks.
Therefore, in discussing "power" as it relates to African spirits, one must also stress the above mentioned societal, cultural and contextual elements which dictated and supported the peoples' belief system. That belief system specified that the power of the ritualistic objects emanated from the ceremonies as specified, practiced and perpetuated by the people and that without those ceremonies, the powers of the spirits remained dormant and non functional!
For this text, spirits and masks, sculptures and artifacts are used interchangeably. The text is also based on the "spiritual" practices of the old African peoples of West and Central African regions.
Bwa Butterfly Mask (Above)
This large and awe inspiring mask was used by the Bwa people, who could be found in Mali and Burkina Faso. They were about 300,000 strong and surrounded by other "tribes".
The Bwa were primarily agrarian with a workforce that was made up of farmers, blacksmiths and griots (historians). They governed by way of a counsel of elders. The eldest member of the ruling clan was the master of the soil.
Their spiritual practices centered around Dwo (Do), the son of the creator and the founding ancestor. Dwo (Do) was known to inhabit the forest. The Butterfly mask was used to relate to and honor him in the hope that the rains would come and successfully water the newly planted fields.
Not just anyone could wear and perform the dances. Specially selected dancers (some identified at birth as future mask dancers) would wear these wide headdresses that transformed them into supernatural beings and gave them extraordinary powers. The mask has a large beak, and is decorated with secret ethnographic signs and symbols made up of triangles, concentric circles, alligators, and large wings.
If you would like to purchase this mask, please contact us for the price and to make arrangements for pick up. Thank you.
Benin, Nigeria. Brown continuous patina. Height 10" Leopard cast through the lost wax method.
Bronze leopards were placed at royal ancestor altars and used during ceremonies. In fact, one of the Obas (Oba - King!) of Benin kept life leopards in his personal zoo and employed a special attendant to care for them.
This artist paid great attention to details in crafting the leopard. Notice the seemingly menacing jaw, the spotted fur of which leopards are known, alert perked up ears and fear inducing piercing eyes. A wonderful artifact to add to your collection
Please call for price.
One of the better known and much desired sculptures of the people of the Congo. In the Congo, nails were hammered into fetishes such as this to bring it to life. And to receive its benefits, the indigenes shouted their wishes at it. In times of severe crises, insults and things were hurled at it to agitate it into immediate action. If you would like to purchase it, pl. contact us and to make pick up arrangements. Thank you.
Bwa Plank Mask Plank masks were made by the Bwa people as above (top page). Bwa masks were owned by male elders and represented nature spirits that watched over the families that owned them and the people in their communities. However, they were worn and danced in ceremonies by young men who were generally in their mid teens to early thirties. Some young men were identified at birth as having the attributes to dance the masks! Though the masks were on the heavy side, generally 50 lbs, and required much skill and exertion on the part of the dancer, it was seen as a great honor within the community for one to be the dancer, and many young men aspired for the job! The masks were used in the dry season (October to May) in preparation for the planting of the crops, and supplication that the spirit which the masks represented would aid in bringing about an abundant harvest. They were also assigned other special duties, for example, initiation, funeral, and market days ceremonies. The patterning and colors on the masks were ethnographic sign/symbols used to teach young initiates about Bwa traditions and the moral, ethical, spiritual and religious expectations. This awe inspiring mask could be yours. However, arrangements would have to be made for pick up. Please also call for price.
Old Africans would be amazed at the high degree of attention and interest that their objects now conjure. They would, however, not be surprised that many find these objects powerful, enlightening, mesmerizing, endearing, enchanting, empowering, and yes beautiful. Africans always believed their spirits were magical.
We call it African art, but it might as well be termed African life. African life and culture -government, spirituality, policing, entertainment and other social activities were all intertwined. Rites and rituals were involved in marriages, wars, fertility, government, agriculture, protection, wealth building, funerals and natural disasters (volcanoes, meteoric plays, floods, desertification, plagues, etc.). A vast array of objects or tools were needed for invocations and/or supplications.
Africa's oral history, migratory factors and the secrecy of societies make it difficult for objects to be assessed with absolute certainty. Experts abound, sometimes offering conflicting opinions and at other times, rendering those that may be of self interest. Besides, the nuances that go with these ceremonies are invariably lost to many experts!
Be your own expert! Do some research. Your local libraries, museums (many museums now maintain an African Art section) and universities can assist you in obtaining information. You can also obtain recommended books from the Internet. But if you do use the Internet, try not to be steered right away to sites selling you things. The idea is for you to get information on books that would help you make your own choices and become a more discerning collector on this journey called, African Art collection. It is a journey that can be exciting, full of marvelous surprises and endlessly fascinating , but you do not know everything at once, if ever. You learn as you go. If you are a collector, you already know! But most importantly, buy what you love!
We travel to Africa and purchase directly from Africans. We know Africa! Our business helps the dealers (many of whose generations were born in the business) take care of their families and therefore their communities. We are also able to pass on accurate information to you.
We have no middle men, so you can obtain these wonderful objects at fair prices. We do not carry what the natives describe as "carving, just to carve" or carving just to have" . Those are fine too, but we carry only museum quality objects that demonstrate deliberate fine craftsmanship and bear the hallmarks and ideals of African tradition.
As set forth on the Home, About Us and Terms and Conditions of Sale pages, in addition to the Sales of fine traditional African artifacts, we provide exhibitions, research, education, training and "loan" services and are interested in assisting African governments and museums in the implementation of systems and training programs to safeguard museum artifacts and those others that belong to the people. We also welcome inquiries from upscale Department stores that wish to establish an authentic and fantastic African jewelry section or add same to an existing jewelry department.
Periodically you may find offerings you believe we have sold before. This may not necessarily be so! African art is hand made and therefore no two are exactly alike, not even when they were made by the same hand! There are always differences, even if subtle ones.
A collector we know (we will call him Phil) loves Mende masks and has about forty of these (African objects would make you do things like that!) He is searching for his forty first , as we speak! To an outsider they appear the same. But a savvy collector knows better!
Buy from us worry - free. We know our business. We are your African art and fantastic jewelry specialists! Shop and buy now! Shop and buy now!