Ethnic cultural furnishings, particularly African tribal decor, complement the clean lines of Mid-Century Modern style. Handmade objects made of metal, carved wood, and hand-woven textiles provide rich texture. Pieces like the ones discussed below will add an inherent sense of exoticism to any room.
I’ll focus on Africa because we acquired several remarkable pieces recently at an estate sale. The homeowner lived and worked in Zimbabwe as an electrical engineer for several years. His African tribal decor collection went far beyond mere tourist souvenirs.
West African Cast Brass Mask
I sought out — and paid for — an appraisal of this metal mask. Look at the detail: a bird, with a long, curved beak perches on the face. Its defined eyes appear on the side of the head, and a comb sits atop the bird’s head and wattle hangs from neck. I’m not even guessing at the type of bird.
The face shows masculine features; the wide eye openings have decorative edges. Decorative scarification runs from below the eyes down to the chin, as well as exaggerating the eyebrows. The delicate loops frame the entire face remind me of antique lace trim.
The appraiser told me this piece dates from the second half of the 20th century. It appears to borrow features from Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Never intended for tribal use, the craftsman made it for the art market.
Zamble Guro African Tribal Mask
For these next masks, I did my own research. If I’m wrong, I’d appreciate your input. I believe this mask represents the mythical male Zamble of the Guro tribe of Ivory Coast. Zamble integrates animals into his features. This mask presents his antelope horns, crocodile mouth, leopard eyes.
At one time, bright paint highlighted the mask. Very little remains, but his painted red tongue endures.
Kpelie Mask, Senufo People
A more delicately carved mask, this one presents the female Kpelie, appreciated for beauty and fertility. Senufo men of the Ivory Coast and Mali, however, wore this type of mask during boys’ initiation ceremonies, harvest festivals and funeral rituals. The horns represent male characteristics. Scarification appears on the cheeks.
African mask – origin unknown
This elongated mask, propped up against a bookend, offers bright color and clean design. It’s carved from a single tree branch, and I adore the narrow eyes, long nose and colorful cheeks.
All of the wooden masks we bought are hand carved:
Copper and Brass Metal Wall Art
When we first came across photos of this piece, it appeared to be a shield. On closer examination, it may be a massive bowl. We’re using it as wall art in our booth. Made of copper and brass pieces, hand riveted, it makes a terrific dramatic statement.
1626 Map of Africa
I’m sure the above map is a reproduction, but Englishman John Speed created the original in 1626. Highly decorative and wonderfully speculative, it gives us mountains, lakes, and rivers that don’t really exist. But for the early 1700s, it’s great. The Aethiopian Ocean appears in place of the Atlantic Ocean. Drawings of traditionally clad natives border the map’s sides, while the top border presents 8 African cities. Our map’s connection to African craftsmen comes through its framing story. Mahogany wood frames the piece, done in Harare, Zimbabwe.
African Mud Cloth
I’ll take this occasion to mention our mud cloth, probably from Mali, and acquired at a previous sale. Also called bogolan, these are fabulous, unique textiles. David created a mud cloth canopy in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery to draw attention to our Africa display.
Hand-woven cotton forms the basis of our mud cloth. Narrow strips were stitched together to form the whole piece. Tree bark and branches were used to develop the dyes. The artist painted cowry shells and designs with paint made from fermented river mud, aged up to one year. Because of the process and artist, each cloth is unique. I like the idea of using textiles for a contemporary home’s African tribal decor. Instant pillow, tablecloth, or bed covering.
If you are interested in more information on the making of mud cloth, here’s a video:
Thanks for stopping by for a look at our African tribal decor. We’d love to hear about ethnic items you’ve picked up during your travels or at sales.
Ann Marie and David