Sunday Talk on Tribal Art Collecting


Sunday, 4th July 2021 – The dialogue follows an addition to my “Salampasu” blog (LINK)


I’d be very curious to know more about your tribal art collecting.   Are you just African or do you do oceanic as well? Are you a systematic collector or an opportunist like myself? Where do you look for your pieces and how has that changed over the years?

I have a small and modest collection but i believe largely authentic. I enjoy the research most of all.



Good Morning. This is how I like to start the Sunday morning!

To cut a long story short and satisfy your curiosity:

When I stopped traveling to Africa in 1990 and after the globally oriented political-historical lessons at a grammar school in 2006, I switched to collecting and blogging.


Are you just African or do you do oceanic as well?


– West Africa up to around 2011 mainly from a German dealer who made two tours a year,

– Congo at the flea market since 2012, mainly from two Congolese traders, one traveling, the other receiving parcels and containers from Kinshasa and relatives

– Nepal Western Hills from a Nepali in Frankfurt

– Afghanistan, Nuristan from a carpet dealer of Herat running a shop in Freiburg

– Some China (inherited and promoted since 1973 )

Loyalty to dealers has always been important (too much?) to me, despite some disappointment. Exceptions prove the rule.


Are you a systematic collector or an opportunist like myself?


Opportunist, lately more systematic with increasing knowledge, and my budget ever smaller (exchange preferred to plain ’apprenticeship money’) …


Where do you look for your pieces and how has that changed over the years?


No purchase based on images and at auctions

Gallery prices seemed too high compared to the expertise service. I did not want to pay their exorbitant rent.

I have certainly been a troublesome customer: I have tried out a lot and for weeks, sometimes returned an object after years (with a realistic discount). I can’t stand pieces around me that I’m no longer behind, usually.

At present little growth because of my age and the lockdowns; but closeness with proven pieces, with tendency to publish in the Blog, in the interest of others and of my collection!

Avoiding Court Arts (political aversion to and commercialization) and of certain areas (after a few bad experience);

instead: Strong aesthetic and ‘typical’ objects from tribal areas. – ‘Typical’ can refer to individual features from different ‘sources’, but some regional anchoring must be recognizable. I then do my research from there.

In a world of growing scientific division of labor, where things and material culture are increasingly functionalized and devalued, free historical research is still what I enjoy most. I’m worried about the objects themselves (but it’s no different with savings anyway).



Thank you! I am intrigued by your saying there are some areas you avoid altogether. I am the same way. The fakes are too sophisticated for some high prestige pieces for me.

Over the years i have found myself focusing on certain sources but nothing is ever permanent.

I avoid online and only do auctions if i can attend in person to see the piece. One dramatic exception to that for a mask i had wanted for some time.

One of my favourite books is Marc Felix et al Congo Masks but i rarely have the opportunity to purchase these confidently anyway.

I look forward to seeing your pieces and the results of your research on your blog!

I think others will be interested in your answers here as well.  All the best



Good idea. Perhaps other collectors will also participate. (“Kommentar”= Comment function)


I am intrigued by your saying there are some areas you avoid altogether …..


First it was Gabon – a small country firmly in French art traders hands – on the occasion of a failure with Kota grave guards. “The price you paid was reasonable for a copy from the fifties,” told me Simonis, the owner of a famous German gallery, when I asked him for advice. That was no consolation! Then experts argued publicly about the “authenticity” of reliquary figures of the Ambete (those with the “mailbox” in the back) in an exhibition in Heidelberg. No thanks.

Cameroonian traders ‘nomadized’ on the Frankfurt flea market, had goods from the Sahel to the Congo or were too resourceful for their legends.

The craftsmen of the Cameroonian kingdoms have been working for a hundred and fifty years for the need for ‘royal’ guest gifts and for the export market. By the way, I’ve already seen enough of their classic large-faced masks from coffee-table books.

This argument essentially also applies to the masks and handicrafts of the Kuba, whose handicrafts were part of their resistance under Belgian colonial rule. The Rietberg Museum addressed this fact in its 2019/20 exhibition “Congo Fiction” (LINK to Blog German / French).

But one thing is clear: Our personal taste and appeal of the individual item is the strongest trigger.

(A suivre….. Les collectionneurs francophones sont également les bienvenus)






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