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Re: male Kifwebe mask? (side thickness)

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  • pataphor123
    Hi Paul and others: I realize this conversation is from a year ago. But I thought this would be fun to share. I downloaded that document Paul created with
    Message 1 of 22 , Apr 29, 2012
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      Hi Paul and others:

      I realize this "conversation" is from a year ago. But I thought this would be fun to share.

      I downloaded that document Paul created with photos of bifwebe from Zemanek. (I'd never really heard of Zemanek before,)

      I found this photo:

      And thought it looked an awfully lot like this one, that I bought from an estate sale last week:

      They're also roughly the same size: 25" (Zemanek catalog) vs. 27.5" (one I purchased).

      Mine doesn't have the nose hairs, but it has holes where they must have been attached at one point. It also smells like a campfire and has a "rubbed spot" right about where the chin would be on the inside.

      Either way, I'm in love with this new kifwebe, even if my girlfriend still thinks it's ugly. : )



      --- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, Paul DeLucco <pauldelucco@...> wrote:
      >
      > Greetings,
      >
      > The Kifwebe mask is one of the most dramatic masks in Africa and one of the most difficult to expertise.  It is a mask whose style is shared by the Luba groups and the Songye groups of the northern Katanga area of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as small clusters of Songye in the Eastern Kasai province.  Various styles have emerged and disappeared over the last century in various parts of the range of the Kifwebe cult, some of these styles influenced by European collectors. 
      >
      > The situation of the Kifwebe mask is similar in some ways to that of the Hopi Indian Kachina doll.  The Kachina doll is still important today to Hopi culture and is still made by Hopi craftsmen and used in Hopi rituals.  Today, it is often sold after the rituals.  No doubt, the carvers also sell copies they have made into the same market.  The result is that the difference between real and fake is blurred beyond argument.  What is important to Kachina collectors now is age and provenance, or just provenance as that includes age.
      >
      > For the last few decades, the Kifwebe mask has been made and sold in large numbers by traditional carvers in its traditional range. Now, professional carvers elsewhere in Africa make Kifwebe masks for the art market.  This supports what Ed says below:   I saw young carvers at few local shops (sides and back), "whittling away", making masks.  Quite the impressionable sight for an enthusiast to behold.  
      >
      > What this means for the collector is that there are several ranges of quality of Kifwebe mask.  The lowest grade would be the knock-offs being carved in Dakar or Nairobi for sale as airport art.  The next higher range would be the masks carved in the traditional range for sale to collectors. At the higher end of the market would be the masks carved for, and used in, traditional rituals and then sold to collectors.  The highest grade would be the masks collected more than 50 years ago, with provalble provenance, something going substantively beyond the "old Belgian collection" tag that Sothebys is always employing.  
      >  
      > I have looked at the photos of Sebaastian's mask and there are things I like.  A real Kifwebe is almost always made from soft wood.  It may be stored in a sack in an upright position, or on an overhead rack in a horizontal position, or hung on wall but, in some way, it is put out of reach of a busy household.  What this means is that the back edges come in contact with a surface for a long period of time where it can be exposed to moisture or insects.  This explains the frequent signs of rot on the edges of the mask near the holes where the raffia attaches.  Sebastian's mask seems to show such signs.  On the negative side, the exagerrated style of Sebastian's mask, with the protuberant eyes, is precisely the style favored by European collectors in the mid-20th Century.  It is probably the most copied style.
      >  
      > I went through some auction catalogues for the last 12 months and picked out the Kifwebe masks offered for sale.  I am attaching the file here. Notice the range of styles and estimated prices.  (Frankly, I wonder how many experts are capable of expertising such masks.)  Sebastian can do a number of things to enhance the credibility of his mask.  First of all, he needs to get the opinion of an expert appraiser who can examine the piece physically - photos don't do it.  Assuming the appraiser accepts the possibility of the mask being real, Sebastian needs to find out from the estate agent, surviving member of the family, etc where the collector might have acquired the mask.  He will want to get that in writing.  Then he should collect a lot of photos of other masks of similar style that are in international collections.  Finally, he might want to pay for a range of scientific tests to comoe up with a possible age.  Provenance can be a work
      > in progress and such work might well pay off in the end.
      >  
      > Regards,
      >  
      > Paul           
      >
      >  
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________
      > From: Ed Jones bucit@...
      > To: African_Arts@yahoogroups.com
      > Sent: Mon, March 8, 2010 6:28:17 AM
      > Subject: Re: [African_Arts] male Kifwebe mask? (side thickness)
      >
      >  
      > Hello John,
      >  
      > Again, I have tried to view image 3311 carefully.  It appears (to me) that the difference of thickness between the sides are attributed to the carver's ability... This asymmetry is not uncommon, even among "vetted" and perhaps superior pieces.   I do not see "dry rot" or issues around the holes --- except differences attributed to carving or mask making.  
      >  
      > Last time I was in Africa was in 2008 (Dakar, Senegal).  On two occasions, I saw young carvers at few local shops (sides and back), "whittling away", making masks.  Quite the impressionable sight for an enthusiast to behold. 
      >  
      > I only mention this because (I think) it is important and reasonable to consider these days.  Perhaps, the extraordinary items have been claimed by the time --- environmental or destroyed.  Of course, there are items tucked and hidden away in early private (colonial) collections. 
      > Some pieces continue to be "sequestered or ransomed" as part of criminal activities such as the British Punitive Expedition or for simple profit/greed.  It will take "deep pockets" to get pieces of extraordinary caliper/quality, but there are still excellent items coming out of Africa.
      >  
      > Meanwhile, self-learning remains a wealth of finding and true discovery.
      >  
      > Ed
      >  
      >
      >
      >
      >
      > ________________________________
      > From: john sebastian <johnsebastian@ comcast.net>
      > To: African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com
      > Sent: Sun, March 7, 2010 8:22:04 AM
      > Subject: Re: [African_Arts] male Kifwebe mask?
      >
      >  
      > Ed,
      >
      > Thanks for the reply and yes  I am referring to the holes for the raffia. It seems apparent that the wood on the bottom and right side has been cut away presumably due to rot or damage.
      >
      > If you look at image 3311 in my album (Sebastian) you will see the holes on the left side of the mask and you can see how the wood is of greater thickness on the right side of the mask suggesting that it has been cut back.
      >
      > The wood it self is rather soft and some small areas on the edges might be described as having a bit of "dry rot", the wood where exposed appears quite similar to the wood on your female mask.
      >
      > The object is also quite large almost 18 inches (45.7 cm) tall and almost 10 inches (25.4 cm) wide
      >
      > Makes a lovely note when thumped with the knuckle.
      >
      > I did not know about the nose hairs how wonderful.
      >
      > Thanks for the help
      >
      >
      >
      > On Mar 6, 2010, at 4:41 PM, Ed Jones wrote:
      >
      >  
      > >
      > >
      > >John,
      > > 
      > >I am uncertain about this... I never encountered a mask with holes only on one side.  Are you referring to the attachment holes for the raffia (and part of the over-all regalia) which is the back part of the mask?  If so, and it lacks holes around the entire back periphery, this would most likely indicate the mask is "certainly made for the market".  How else would it hold firm to the wearer's head?
      > > 
      > >The raffia on both masks was damaged and partially attached.  I made "make-shift repairs" to re-attach both for display.
      > > 
      > >Anyway, I have attached a few photos of a couple Songye "kifwebe" helmet masks from my collection for your review.  You can find them in a photo album titled "bucit".
      > >They are both quite huge in size. I think the female helmet is the better of the two, or at least, I prefer it more.  It also is made of a soft wood which is typical of older relics (more susceptible to environmental decay and damage and deterioration) ... The male example is of a more dense and hard wood type, but I like the power expressed through the crest.  You can see the "netting" with the magic herbs, etc in-tact on both masks.  The nose hairs on both masks are also quite visible; "in the spirit realm, the ability to walk/tread around death with it's pungent smell"... Another functional attribute about the purpose of these (dangerous) masks I find intriguing.. .
      > > 
      > >Ed 
      > >
      > > 
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > ________________________________
      > From: john sebastian <johnsebastian@ comcast.net>
      > >To: African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com
      > >Sent: Fri, March 5, 2010 2:21:29 PM
      > >Subject: Re: [African_Arts] male Kefwele mask?
      > >
      > > 
      > >Well I did know the collector from whose estate I purchased this object A very discerning woman. But you are most probably correct. However one must note that there are holes with black threads on only one side of this mask as if someone had cut the rotten wood off the other edges?
      > >
      > >
      > >A complex aging technique if that is what it is.
      > >
      > >
      > >On Mar 5, 2010, at 10:42 AM, Ed Jones wrote:
      > >
      > > 
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>John,
      > >> 
      > >>It is an attractive male "kifwebe". However, reasonably, I would seriously doubt that this mask is vetted or has been genuinely used during dance or intended function.  From all accounts (to me), it appears to have been replicated for the market... Made to look aged.  Such pieces are typically not more than 20-30 years in age at the most.  I think in this case, possibly more recent.
      > >> 
      > >>Enjoy it and as time, descearnment and tastes change and cultivate, sell/trade or provide it for another to appreciate (and perhaps learn).
      > >> 
      > >>Ed 
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>
      > ________________________________
      > From: john sebastian <johnsebastian@ comcast.net>
      > >>To: African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com
      > >>Sent: Thu, March 4, 2010 5:16:32 PM
      > >>Subject: Re: [African_Arts] male Kefwele mask?
      > >>
      > >> 
      > >>Thank you very much any idea how old this mask might be? My understanding is that the patterns of wear suggest this mask was used but I am very new to this topic.
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>Any notions?
      > >> 
      > >>
      > >>On Mar 3, 2010, at 7:24 AM, G. Wood wrote:
      > >>
      > >> 
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>Thanks John  nice piece.
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > ________________________________
      > From: john sebastian <johnsebastian@ comcast.net>
      > >>>To: African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com
      > >>>Sent: Sun, February 28, 2010 6:58:58 PM
      > >>>Subject: [African_Arts] male Kefwele mask?
      > >>>
      > >>> 
      > >>>Hello brand new to this group,
      > >>>
      > >>>I picked up a number of items at an estate sale last fall and was
      > >>>hoping to receive a bit of advice and information on these objects.
      > >>>
      > >>>At this point I've uploaded photos of what appears to be a male
      > >>>kefwele mask any suggestions or comments would be appreciated. The
      > >>>mask appears to have use wear and I've included a number of close ups
      > >>>to show the condition of the pigment and wood.
      > >>>
      > >>>There is a Rwandan Batik in the background of these images.
      > >>>
      > >>>The album is named Sebastian and the link is below.
      > >>>
      > >>>Thanks
      > >>>
      > >>>http://groups. yahoo.com/ group/African_ Arts/photos/ album/567979532/ pic/list
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>>
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>
      > >>
      > >
      > >
      > >
      > >
      >
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