The Fake African knives of Tilman Hebeisen August 14, 2018 – Posted in: Articles, Fakes

Fakes and forgeries are a hugely understated problem in the art world, and especially so when it comes to African Art. Over the last few years I’ve been following a fascinating story involving a noted and respected African Weapons write who had hired an Austrian blacksmith to create fake African weapons which he then published in his books. Now the definitive article on the subject has been published in Tribal Art Magazine

African weapons expert Wolf-Dieter Miersch (of AfricanArms.com) and Tribal Art dealer Ethan Rider (of ERTribal.com) have written the expose on the fake African knives made by Austrian Blacksmith Tilman Hebeisen under the instruction of noted tribal weapons author Manfred Zirngibl. It can be found in the Summer 2018 edition of Tribal Art Magazine here (The Fantastic African Blades of Tilman Hebeisen).

n 2014, comment appeared on afropapa.de which caught the attention of African weapons collector Wolf-Dieter Miersch, who was aware of some dodgy transactions between Zirngibl and a German museum. Miersch got hold of the author of the comment, blacksmith Tilman Hebeisen, who eventually told him that Manfred Zirngibl had hired him in 1976 to manufacture replicas of African knives and that he had been doing this work for decades.

Ingo Barlovic Kunst Und Context “Geschmiedete afrikanische Kurzwaffen made in Österreich?” Kunst & Kontext, July 2017

Miersch contacted the author of the online comment, one Tilman Hebeisen, and after a 90-minute phone call, he realized that Hebeisen was the key to unlocking the door to Zirngibl’s incredibly strange world of secrets. A blacksmith by trade, Hebeisen declared that Zirngibl, who had long collected and dealt in African weapons but whose academic background lay in business administration, hired him in 1976 to manufacture replicas of African knives in Austria, and that he had been doing this work for decades. These revelations led to a series of interviews between Miersch and Hebeisen, who was bitter after finding out that some of these fake knives had sold for huge sums (case in point, this Zande status knife sold at Sothebys in 2013)

Miersch also invited well known German African Art blogger and author Ingo Barlovic to interview Hebeisen Barlovic which resulted in the first public articles about this scandal in Kunst und Kontext magazine (“Geschmiedete afrikanische Kurzwaffen made in Österreich?” Kunst & Kontext, July 2017 – Ingo Barlovic)

Ethan Rider has added his considerable technical expertise to the Tribal Art Magazine article, explaining in detail how these faked knives can be identified and the differences in manufacture between these and genuine African weapons. It also helps the Hebeisen has been more than willing to share many photographs of these weapons in various stages of manufacture. It’s a fascinating tale of greed and forgery, all the more scandalous because it was orchestrated by a known tribal art expert.

You can read the article on the online version of the magazine here