Out of Africa
Smarten up about African art.
Once upon a time, way before the Great Recession, there were four art galleries on or near Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains. Today, only one remains, and perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s Ghana native Joe Cobbinah’s Dafco’s Art Gallery. Where else in the county can you find authentic, museum-quality African masterworks? Here, Cobbinah—known to his friends by his African name, Kwaku—talks about traditional African art.
How do you find your gallery’s works? Twice a year I travel to such places as Guinea, Mali, Burkina, Faso, and Ghana. I work directly with the tribal chiefs and elders, going into their homes to acquire pieces. I’ve worked with the chief’s court, where traditional rites have to be performed before the items can be released.
What sorts of items do you feature? We offer a wide variety of African art, including everything from ceremonial masks and divination vessels to royal doors that were used in the chief’s home. Nothing is new.
How does African art differ from American art? African art is functional—it is to use, whether a chair for the chief or a mask used during a harvest festival. And the people who carve these pieces are handpicked for that purpose.
What is the usual background of those who purchase your art? We sell to homeowners and designers of all different backgrounds, not just African American. Most of our clients are collectors or connoisseurs.
What is the most popular type of art you sell? Wooden ritual masks from Gabon, the Congo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Between forty and seventy years old, they range in price from nine hundred to twenty-five hundred dollars.
Tell us about some of the more unusual items in your collection. We have a large divination chest from the Bamileke people from Cameroon in which the royal family kept its important papers; it sells for thirty-five thousand dollars.