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Igbo Ezzamgbo mask

Igbo Ezzamgbo mask
Igbo Ezzamgbo maskIgbo Ezzamgbo maskIgbo Ezzamgbo maskIgbo Ezzamgbo mask
Tribe: Ezzamgbo Igbo
Country: Nigeria
Ritual: Unknown
Name: Unknown
 
Materials: Wood
 
Provenance: Coll. Andrew Turley, Nth West Cameroon/Nigeria border 2009
 
Comments: Age estimated at circa 1960 to 1970

This mask style appears in a François Neyt book, The Arts of the Benue: to the roots of tradition, Tielt, 1985, p. 51, fig. II.24 and is attributed to the Igala. Based on this reference, Veronique Martelliere from the African Arts Group postulated that the mask could be Igala (as Nyet attributes the style) but possibly carved by an Idoma artist as the eyes ears and deeply domed forehead are more typical of the Idoma and in the Yangedde district, the Idoma culture joins that of the Igala.

The same mask was also offered by Sotheby's as Lot 168 in their May 2009 African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art Sale Nos. 8552 (with a USD25,000 - USD35,000 expectation).

However Lee Rubinstein underlined the problems of attribution pointing out that comprehensive studies on material of the region are limited and the literature appears to contain some unsubstantiated theories regarding both the attributions of specific works as well as the hypotheses regarding the dissemination or co-occurrence of specific aspects observable in a multitude of locales and traditions.

Lee provided some interesting insight through Dr. Herbert M. Cole (among the most experienced and knowledgeable sources on southeastern Nigerian material culture and whose work amongst the Igbo is referenced in African Masks from the Barbier-Mueller Collection). Dr Cole noted that the so-called Igala mask was almost certainly Ezzamgbo Igbo, NE Igbo. He believed Neyt was wrong on several attributions, as in his opinion dealers too often are seeing more dollar signs for Igala or Idoma than for Igbo.

Interestingly, the Benue project from which the Neyt book emerged was funded by and published by Hawaiian Agronomics, a company owned by the collector Roger Azar from whose collection it is believed many of the works used to illustrate the book were drawn (although this does not appear to be clearly stated at any point).

Through Dr. Cole, Lee also made reference to a review by Arnold Rubin of the Neyt book regarding Benue traditions which was published in African Arts (Volume XIX, No. 4/August, 1986, pp. 15-23). Rubin questions and/or refuted, with critical detail, the purported accuracy and veracity of much of the book. He put forward corrections (and dissenting theories) on attribution and origin of styles as presented in Arts of the Benue including those attributions providing for many of the masks which appear in the Neyt-Benue book as Figs. III.74-89. Rubin cites alternate attributions tentatively suggested by Cole based on his observations and research (although inconclusive). After detailing many aspects of the book, Rubin concludes his review with the following:

"As regards scholarship, it is demonstrably not much of a contribution. It looks and feels like a better book than it is, but it is so awesomely careless in research and writing that it represents more insult than praise to the people of whom it treats. Perhaps other interests are being served."

Rubin's discussions on the deficiencies of information and analysis in the book do provide reasonable basis for caution when using the text as a definitive resource for attribution and for deriving theories of origin and inter-relationship of masks and figures from the region.