Berz Gallery of African Art
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Beautiful, High Quality Afikpo Tribe (Nigeria) Mask with Rare Figurative Superstructure

Afikpo Tribe, Nigeria

Composition: wood, kaolin pigment stain, layered patina from repeated reapplication of pigment and offerings Dimensions: 22" (h) / cm Age: early 20th century Provenance: Ex. Galerie Olivier Larroque, Nimes (France), Ex. Private American Collection Exhibition History: This object was vetted by a committee of tribal art experts and vetted as antique and authentic at BRUNEAF, June 2017 Description: In numerous publications, Simon Ottenberg has explored the dimensions of masking in the Afikpo village group an Ada (Edda) people living close to the Cross River. The carved masks of Afikpo are distinctive in style, though with close similarities to those of Amaseri, Nkporo, and other Ada groups. Some are clearly derived from Ibibio masks and are so labeled by the Afikpo themselves. The typical Afikpo face mask is fairly small and narrow, vertically oriented, and worn projecting forward from the face in front of a raffia “collar” (attached to the oval mask-back) that is lashed to the wearer´s head. Ottenberg distinguishes about twelve basic mask types, all of which appear, often in great numbers, in public displays. Most masks are humanoid or abstractions, although a few animals, such as goats, also occur. The first mask, worn by novices during their initiation, is a calabash form, mbubu, called “head of yam,” isiji. Similar calabash masks with vertical fiber extensions are worn in rituals of the same name among the Nkporo Ada, and some Afikpo initiation rites are said to have derived from there . Private (male only) and public dances often include more than a hundred masked initiates ranging in age from five to the early twenties.In some Ada groups a hierarchy of these fiber-extended masks is danced, the tallest ones, over twenty feet, carried by leaders among the initiates. All males are members of secret societies that sponsor initiatory and other masquerades. A number of these employ full banana-leaf or netted-fiber body-suits without wooden headpieces. These are wide-spread among many Cross River peoples and extend further west in Igbo territory. They are often masquerades of considerable physical activity and force, with controlling functions, but they are relatively low on the continuum of visual display. Carved wooden Afikpo masks, on the other hand, appear in several visually splendid public festivals characterized by rich music, fine dancing, and the performance of elaborate “plays” or dramatic skits, which include a large measure of social commentary. The most popular and best- known of these is Okumkpa, Afikpo´s most theatrical masking event, held in the dry season.” From our extensive experience with masks of this type, it dates to the early 20th century. Finding a mask of this style with such a large, wonderful figure forming the superstructure is highly uncommon, as due to the demand for such figures, local and not-so-local dealers would frequently cut the figure from atop the mask and sell the figure and mask separately. The mask shows extensive signs of use, wear, and handling and multiple applications of pigment and libations/offerings. It is an exceptional and collectible mask, with tremendous presence and a wonder which is hard to convey in photos.