Poboye Konate, Maskmaker

When I lived in Ouagadougou, in Burkina Faso, West Africa, I got to know a maskmaker from Oury, near Boromo on the paved road between Ouaga and Bobo-Dioullasso.  He spent a lot of time in the capital, and had a shop–more of a stand, really–near the American embassy where he sold the masks his family makes (mostly under his direction).  I was introduced to him by Carol Thompson, now curator of African Art at the High Museum in Atlanta and author of African Art Portfolio: An Illustrated Introduction.

Poboye Konate made masks and all sorts of other things.  He was an expert at reproductions (or “fakes,” as they sometimes become)  and once laughingly told me he had sold a bronze flute that looked to be ancient to an art scholar who was completely taken in–Poboye had made the flute purposely to fool him (he didn’t like the man).

I bought a number of masks from Poboye, including one that I had commissioned, asking for a reproduction of one whose picture he had shown me, a mask whose “original” (I only bought reproductions) had been important to his family and that had, he told me, been stolen:

He made this one, he told me, using the type of paints he would have once used for an “original,” that is, for a replacement mask for one used in ceremonial dancing.  They were locally made paints, something rarely seen, by that time.  The ones he made for tourists generally looked like the paint had faded away a generation ago and the wood had cracked and warped.

Over time, I bought a number of other reproduction masks from him, including these:

The Bwa-Bobo style that Poboye often worked within has been much copied.  On the streets of New York, I used to see sloppy versions of the Oury masks for sale, the triangles uneven, the circles stretched to oval.  One seller admitted to me that they were made–hurridly–in Haiti.

You can see the difference in the paint in these from the first mask.  For them, Poboye used store-bought European paints–just as he now did for the “real” masks for the dancers.  I do have a couple of masks that he faked for an antique look, one of which hangs in my living room.  But my favorites are these, masks made by a master craftsman as replications of masks that might actually be used in a ceremonial dance, of masks that Poboye often made as well–but only to order and never for outside sale.

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