Faked Kpelié masks: Identical twins

Senufo Kpelie mask Senoufo Kpelié masque art design fake
Faked Kpelié masks: Both masks show identical manipulations of traces of usage.


For me as a collector it sometimes is too good to be true, to find two objects made by the same carver. If the carver or a master is documentated and known with his individual style and technique, it can be possible to match and classify a Senufo sculpture.


At first view each of the showing masks is looking good on their own. Obviously they are not old, the carver has the tendency to be a bit out of proportion, the style elements are in the range of traditional Senufo decorations. The fixing wholes to attach the Kpelié on a fabric are correct and the two wholes on each side to fix the mask at the face with rubber bands, cords or strings are right too. A black paint covers the complete front of the mask and shows abrasion on the outer side of the mask where the cloth is fixed.


And here is the crux: After carving process, both masks got identically treated with the same manipulations to make them look like authentic pieces. Even the same dust/dirt is rubbed in as debris, after coloring the masks to make it look used (First rule in collecting african sculptures: DIRT IS NO PATINA!). As said, looking at one mask on its own, the traces are plausible at first view. But having two identical side by side, they show exactly the same status and level of usage.


Back again to my point, to collect objects of a known carver: Sculptures from the same origin always show different levels of usage, patina and condition, like from "brand new untouched picture perfect" up to "is that fragment a nose or a knee?" (see also masks carved by Ziehouo Coulibaly, Fossoungo Dagnogo, Songuifolo Silué, Bakari Coulibaly or the statues by Doh Soro or Tchètin Bêh Konaté).


Sidekick information: The Senufo call a broken Kpelié mask "an ugly mask" (from: Kunst und Religion bei den Gbato-Senufo, Elfenbeinküste, Karl-Heinz Krieg und Wulf Lohse, Hamburg, 1981, page 68). These masks can be danced, but they don't have any spiritual power. Before the initial or beautiful mask is going to dance, the broken mask performes first. The viewers do not take the dance serious, it is entertaining. Sometimes these masks get repaired (so-called "african reparation", an article about this feature is in preparation). But in most cases these masks are getting sold to art dealers. Later on, when you are about to buy a damaged mask as a collector, you get told, that these traces are characteristic for an authentic piece. In case to try to sell a broken mask, every dealer will tell you: Sorry, it is a broken mask.


I am always extremely critical, when two or even more objects show the same patina and traces of usage. Although they are faked, but luckily I bought both masks to discover this manipulated similarity.

Left: Faked Kpelié mask. 

35,0 x 15,5 x 10,0 cm, wood.



- Wenn Brauch Gebrauch beeinflusst, Markus Ehrhard, pages 150 - 151. 

Right: Faked Kpelié mask

33,5 x 15,0 x 10,5 cm, wood.



- Wenn Brauch Gebrauch beeinflusst, Markus Ehrhard, pages 150 - 151. 

Copyright content and images by Markus Ehrhard