Occasionally I see debate on this forum around the quality (and authenticity) of artefacts and sculpture fresh from Africa. Last month I spent a week in Angola to see if I could add to my collection. It wasn't what I would call a relaxing experience but it was certainly an interesting one. And I thought others might be interested.
Angola came out of a long running civil war 8 years ago that followed conflict involving both Cuban and South African combatants. Now Luanda (the capital) is one of the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates, who are there for oil, diamonds and occasionally construction tasks. Contrasting this small minority is a very very poor general population, most of whom were forced to move to the city during the period of civil war.
Luanda isn't as dangerous as it was 3 years ago - people I met talked of gun battles on the street - but it still holds tension. Which I can understand when the incredibly poor, who for years controlled their own destiny with a gun are reminded of their circumstance daily by the incredibly wealthy. I guess you could say that you can still feel the war. In my first 2 hours there I was confronted in the street - an interesting time!
I didn't know what to expect in terms of art availability, more specifically authentic ritual masks. In most west African countries I have visited there is a plethora of sculpture, carvings and masks (most of it poor replicas or tourist art). This wasn't the case in Luanda. In fact there was very little to be seen and I suppose it is reflective of the size of the market willing and knowledgable to purchase (tiny in an underdeveloped and non-tourist country). There were a few souvenir/craft shops for the the expatriates and one market that had a range of "African" carvings.
The migration to the cities has greatly reduced rural populations and production of ritual art. Most authentic pieces that are coming out of the country are being sourced by runners in the rural locations (I did see quite a few quality pieces at 2 locations across the border in Namibia)
After all that, I did find a single Angolan piece, and one from the Congo / Angolan border, that for me, made the trip worthwhile.
Although this Chihongo is relatively small (about 23 cm deep) it has what I think are beautifully typical sunken cheeks, coffee bean eyes and jutting beard. There are chips, cracks, sweat stains and he has lost his earings but I love his lines, balance and aesthetics.
The pics are under an album entitled "Tshokwe mask Angola"
He's new, fresh from Africa, but will now take pride of place in my collection.