Discoveries Objects

Fake of the day: a Mangbetu vessel made in Cameroon

Image courtesy of Lorenz Homburger, 2 March 2006. Published in: Homberger (Lorenz) and Christine Stelzig, “Contrary to the Temptation!. An Appeal for New Dialogue Among Museums and Collectors, Scholars, and Dealers” in African Arts, Vol.XXXIX, #2, Summer 2006, p. 6, #2

I haven’t often touched on the subject of authenticity and fakes on this blog in the past, yet the above picture was too interesting not to share. It is an image of a “Mangbetu” vessel photographed by Lorenz Homberger fourteen years ago in Machutvi, Bamoum province, Cameroon. While this type of vessels originally was created a century ago in Northern Congo, this well-executed example was made by the Bamum potter Kotu Idrissou Mache! The potter was transparant enough to reveal the source of his work: a black&white picture copied from an old publication (which I was unable to identify). It is impressive to discover that such a small image was sufficient to create this elaborate copy – nonetheless, it explains why many such works often show mistakes in areas of which the craftsman did not have a picture (for example, the top of the head). Unfortunately the potter picked a later a-typical Mangbetu vessel as a model, with an European-style hat. Additionally, most of those original Mangbetu anthropomorphic vessels were already created to be sold to Western visitors – without having any local use, as described in “African Reflections” (Schildkrout, 1990). If the potter would have had a bit more market intel, he probably would have picked a different object. Yet, it is fascinating to study how these workshops in Cameroon respond to the demands of the art market. Caveat emptor!