From delicious to not quite right: Subtleties in discerning the authenticity of African art

Stephen Mellor


The nature of African art – its intended use, its intrinsic value within its culture of manufacture, its interpretation as ‘genuine’ by Western definitions, its route from maker, through runner and dealer, to collector, the impact of colonialism – can make declarations of authenticity complex. “Made and used within a traditional cultural group” and “void of the intent to deceive” are longstanding parameters for authenticity. However, nuances in form and condition that reflect cultural dynamics and collection history need to be considered, as well.

This paper discusses the formation of collections that can be referenced for provenance and pedigree information, reviews, by example, the limitations of traditional definitions of authenticity, and presents categories of conditions that are assessed to aid in determining the location of an African object on the authenticity continuum.

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2007 | Richmond | Volume 14