Traditional healer sign: The Master of Secrets

Painted wood

15 3/4 x 23 5/8 in. (40 x 60 cm)


About this artwork

The Master of Secrets, who could be White or Asian, is dressed like a member of the professional class, possibly a physician. (While Europeans initially brought Western medicine to Africa, in recent years, the increasing numbers of Chinese doing business in Africa include healers of various types.) The Master of Secrets is also literate, as demonstrated by his position seated at an imposing desk and writing in a large book. But there are also some disquieting features: the man is sitting on the wrong side of the desk and has knives or perhaps, feathers attached to his ears. Literacy, while generally valued and admirable, can also have dubious uses. Written texts are sometimes believed to have mystical powers and can be used to place spells. In this painting, the Master of Secrets is undoubtedly powerful, and his powers seem to extend beyond the realm of the everyday.

There is no information on the place of origin of this sign, but the artist Chéri Samba from DRC made the painting below of a male figure with similar objects behind his ears.

Chéri Samba, "Je suis un rebelle", 2019 (Jean Pigozzi African Art Collection).