These days when you talk about masks, we think of the face masks used to reduce the impact of COVID-19 virus. However, our focus will be on the tribal masks that were first worn 9000 years ago. The masks were usually carved from wood, metal, or leather. They were mostly worn on the face for protection or for participating in certain tribal rituals. However, the masks had other functions that few people may know about. According to The Antique Story, they were used by the wearer to communicate with spirits and in theatre. Typically, people associate these masks with Africa. Although they were popular in Africa, they were also used in Oceania, China, and North America. Although they were used several years ago, you can still obtain one such mask. However, since they are antique, they will not exactly be pocket-friendly. To have an idea of how much they cost, here are ten expensive masks that have ever been sold below.
10. African Tribal Brass Sculpture Senufo Burial Funeral Mask ($800)
Currently, this mask is on sale on eBay at the above price. This mask combines features of humans and animals, just like most Senufo masks. Senufo masks were used by the Senufo tribe of the Ivory Coast to communicate with their ancestors.
9. Dan Mask ($6,250)
Dan masks were sacred objects used for protection and communicating with the spirit world in Liberia. It is believed that the person who wore the mask would be able to speak the languages of the spirit. This mask is depicted with an oval face, large circular eyes, a high forehead, and raised eyebrows. This mask was sold at an auction at African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian Art in 2016.
8. The Dogon Mask ($18,750)
It has a rigorous architectural form. Its horizontal lines of the mouth contrast with the concave, which delineate the nose and sides of the head. The resulting shape is that of a monkey, which the Malians would call ‘dege,’ which means a black monkey. This creature is always depicted as a villain. The mask was auctioned at the Sotheby’s for the above price in 2002.
7. Mother Crow Mask ($209,000)
As you may have guessed, the mask is shaped like a crow’s head. This mask was auctioned at the Drouot auction house, Paris, in 2013. However, there were protests from the Hopi tribe regarding its sale. According to USA Today, the tribe argued that the mask represented their ancestors’ spirits. They went to court, but the French court ignored the tribe’s protests.
6. The Madeline Langworthy Collection of Eskimo Masks ($295,575)
Twenty-six such masks were displayed at Bonhams Native American Art in San Francisco for sale in 2016. They all sold out for US$295,575 against a lower estimate of $110,000. Since individual buyers bought each mask, it is hard to determine how much each cost. However, we can assume that each sold for around $11,000. When these masks were first bought in the 1930s, they attracted a lot of attention from the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe.
5. Donati Studio Mask ($2.5 million)
The mask is from the 19th century and was carved by Yup’ik Eskimo shamans. It has facial protrusions that resemble hands and dangling sticks and feathers. A notable feature of this mask is its mischievous-looking grin. According to CNN, the mask was used in shamanistic dances to request for good weather and food. Once the dances were done, the wearer would discard the mask. In 2011, the mask was auctioned at the Winter Antiques Show in New York. A private buyer bought it for $2.5 million. Later, another similar mask was displayed and was bought by another private collector for $2.1 million.
4. Muminia Mask ($3.6 million)
This mask was used during rituals by the Bwami tribe of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was worn to signify that a person had been initiated into adulthood. Interestingly, it was rarely worn to cover the face. According to The Collector, it was worn atop the head or affixed to walls or fences of shrines. In 1933, European colonialists declared the Bwami society illegal, which forced the tribe to stop producing the mask. By 2019, only three of these masks were available. Due to its rarity, it sold at Sotheby’s for $3.6 million, which was ten times its estimated auction result.
3. Central African Fang Mask ($4.2 million)
This mask was used in ceremonies by the Fang ethnic people of Gabon. It has a large domed forehead, long nose, almond-shaped eyes, beard made of raffia fibers, and its body was made of cheese wood. It is believed that it dates from the 19th century. The mask was auctioned in France, but there were protests from some Gabonese. They claimed that the auctioneers were selling a stolen item. Ultimately, it was sold against the wishes of the Gabonese.
2. The Walschot-Schoffel Kifwebe Mask ($4.2 million)
The Congolese mask is considered one of the prettiest antique masks. It has volumes of graphic lines which evince a hypnotic grip. Additionally, its eyes roll down to the mouth and chin, evoking a state of perpetual animation. It is unclear what the mask represents, but some surmised that its lines symbolized wisdom and beauty. It was first displayed at the Cercle Artistique et Litteraire in Brussels in 1933, where it garnered a lot of interest. The mask was considered a valuable piece of African art, which is why it sold for $4.2 million at Christie’s.
1. The Baulé Mask ($4.2 million)
This West African mask is depicted with horns and a naturalistic, circular face. Its circular face represents the sun, while the horns show the buffalo’s power. The mask would be worn at Goli rituals to honor distinguished visitors or dance during harvest festivals. This mask was sold for a hammer price of $4.2 million in 2019 at Sotheby’s Paris auction of the Marceau Rivière collection.
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Written by Dana Hanson
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