Paris, France — It was a secret society, the powerful Ngil religious and judiciary secret society of the Fang people of Gabon. Secret societies are and were a largely West African phenomenon. Peacekeepers, policemen and judges, the members of the Ngil society meted out judgements and settled conflicts. They also wore elongated masks, masks that today are extremely rare. They were fearsome and when illuminated by the light of a fire became dramatic and played an important role in the administering of judgements. These masks remain rare for the French in colonial West Africa banned the judicial activities of secret societies in 1910 and the traditional rites of customary Ngil justice were discontinued in the 1920s putting an end to the creation of the instruments and objects of this institution.
So when a rare Fang mask of the Ngil secret society was unearthed in a trunk in an attic in France, it was a revelation and is regarded as a major discovery in the field of equatorial African art and for art history in general. The mask is slated to be sold at auction at the Hotel des Ventes Montpellier, the Auction House of Montpellier in southern France, on March 26th with a starting price of 300,000/400,000 euros. These masks are rare and only another dozen or so specimens have been referenced. Half of them are in museum collections and those that have come onto the auction market have broken records for African Art. This mask, which was sculpted at the end of the 19th century according to carbon 14 dating, was acquired by Governor René-Victor Edward Maurice Fournier, a high ranking French official in French West Africa and had remained in the governor’s family since then.
The mask was assessed and authenticated by the renowned Parisian gallery dealer Bernard Dulon known for his expertise in the domain of African art. The particularly elegant mask was presented by Bertrand de Latour and Jean-Christophe Giuseppe auctioneers of the Montpellier auction house at a recent exhibition at the Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier in Paris. The Ngil masks of Gabon showcase the features typical of Fang carvings: a very broad forehead, a heart-shaped face and a double arch over the eyes. The kaolin used in the fashioning of the mask conveys the color of the dead or spirits. All features that are found in the Governor Fournier Fang mask on the way to auction.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
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