african masksPandora-Box-on-fakes
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Pandora Box-on-fakes

By Jos Maseland collector of African Art, 

First published in the discussion group at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AfricanAntiques/ 

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Dear List Members,


I am a newcomer to this list and haven't had time yet to go through the extensive history of discussions as they have taken place here in this Forum and I certainly do not want to open a Pandora's box on fakes.
I live in Africa and I am visited on a regular basis by dealers who roam the country side and frequently come up with true gems. Nevertheless, some of the regular dealers I am now shunning as they have - due to the rapidly declining supply of good and genuine pieces - increasingly reverted to knowingly selling brand new pieces that have very skillfully been made to look old. Incidentally, one of my former suppliers is now in jail as one of his customers took him to court over selling recent pieces as old ones. He'll be in jail for years to come.
Having said that, I do have in my extensive collection a number of 'fakes'. But really, what is a fake? I have for instance a lovely wooden Kanyok maternity figure. Completely carved in true Kanyok style, a beautiful patina but perhaps not older than ten years.

Now, this piece takes a prime position in my living room as it is a fantastic piece of tribal carving and "beauty is in the beholders' eyes". I am even convinced that the dealer was not aware that it was not a genuine old piece, but does that distract from its beauty? On the other hand, dealers that repeatedly, willingly and knowingly sell recent pieces for something old should better be avoided, I guess. 

But really, as the situation is now, it is nearly impossible to find anything over 25 years old as the supply has been depleted. Truly old pieces do occasionally show up, and recently I bought a stool that was purchased in southern Sudan but which originated from somewhere in Northeast Zaire. (I haven't been able to identify it is tribal sense but is is somewhere between Boa and Zande and I may need the help from this forum to identify it.) 

My experience is that the better pieces now come from conflict areas where some of my dealers go themselves with batteries, medication, reading glasses, bicycle tires, food and other locally needed paraphernalia to trade these goods for tribal goodies by people who are in need of modernity items and wish to trade their inherited tribal artefacts for these modern conveniences. That now seems the sole source of genuine old pieces and a source that is also drying up rapidly. As a result of the diminishing supply, and an equally limited number of old pieces already circulating in the collectors' circles, it may be time to review the whole concept of what is a fake and what is not. Colonial (let alone pre-colonial) pieces are gone and what is generally supplied now is recent and rarely older then 25 years. 

But is that a point or not? I mean, a good tribal piece is exactly that. If it is recent, it is still a good piece and may even have been used in tribal ceremonies and over time will also reach its antiquity status. We should realize that the time of Livingstone, Stanley, Speke and Luggard is over. Tribal traditions, bonds, ceremonies and religious beliefs are rapidly diminishing in Africa under the forces of modernization, globalization and coca-colaization. 

Out of sheer sense of reality I am constantly shifting my collection preferences to items that are still in or entering the supply lines and over the years I have seen myself shifting from collecting statues and masks to, for instance, stools. When the latter sources started to dry up as well, I moved on to utensils and as of recently Bongo grave markers, Dinka corsets and whatever is entering the market. The dealers too are acutely aware of constraints on the supply of good tribal items and they shift towards whatever they can still get. 

In that sense it is not really the African dealer who is to blame. It is the market. When demand stretches supply, 'alternatives' fill the gap - be it fakes, good recent carvings or just different items that previously were less in demand by collectors. It is all in the beholders' eyes and the buyer must simply be aware that there is a lot on the market that is not entirely what it seems.

Bests, 

Jos Maseland is a member of our African art Discussions in English    

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In this section:
Start
Omhoog
Art teaching
Unesco
De Morgen
made in China
Rock art
419
african rock art threat
Make-a-fake-fang
Artefacts seized
Pandora-Box-on-fakes
No-Golden-Rules
tribal-art-value
art of Africa
faking african art
Looting African Art
South-Africa looting
Kenyan art battle
Modernism
Getty grant
endangered species
art rage
African business
Ebay Rap
Daughters of The Dust
African Traditions Bonfire
valuing african art 

African art books

The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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read also : Start ] Art teaching ] Unesco ] De Morgen ] made in China ] Rock art ] 419 ] african rock art threat ] Make-a-fake-fang ] Artefacts seized ] [ Pandora-Box-on-fakes ] No-Golden-Rules ] tribal-art-value ] art of Africa ] faking african art ] Looting African Art ] South-Africa looting ] Kenyan art battle ] Modernism ] Getty grant ] endangered species ] art rage ] African business ] Ebay Rap ] Daughters of The Dust ] African Traditions Bonfire ] valuing african art ]

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