Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Tourist mask

Catalog Number: E004


33.0 x 21.0 x 11.0 cm


13.0 x 8.25 x 4.30 in


Country of Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Materials: Wood
Usage: N/A
Detailed Description of Significance:

This mask is not authentic. Or is it? As a piece of so-called “tourist art,” this piece represents a complex global process that has turned objects once demonized by missionaries and colonial officers as “fetishes” into a new type of fetish—the art commodity.

Trade in African art objects has existed since the first European merchant vessels sailed down the West African coast. From these contacts, African artists have long catered to European tastes and borrowed elements of European and New World styles that appealed to them. Today these processes have taken on truly international dimensions. with carvers, traders, scholars, tourists, and collectors all playing a part. It is not uncommon today to find African workshops staffed by carvers who produce works from ethnic groups far removed from their own, often by copying examples from art history textbooks and journals. Such carvers sometimes innovate by exaggerating the features they assume their clients value most. In this example, for instance, the eye holes are too small and placed too low to allow a dancer to see through.