North America

Inupiaq Eskimo Mask

Point Hope, Alaska

Snow owl shamanic mask
Inupiaq Culture

Carved wood
19th century or earlier
Height: 5 in. (12.5 cm)

Ex collection Joe Gerena, New York
Ex collection Alex Bernand, Paris

Price: on request

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The indentations and grooves on the edges of the eyebrows, temples and nose are reminiscent of the shape and plumage of a snow owl.
The general form of the eyes is also reminiscent of snow goggles called ilgaak or iggaak in the dialects of Alaska. These goggles were carved so as to echo as closely as possible the shape of the face and minimize luminosity to a maximum.
Performed inside the qasaiq (communal men's house) during festivals, dances featured masks that made visible the world of helping spirits and extraordinary beings, and were specially made to tell particular stories. Often used by shamans to facilitate communication and movement between worlds (the shamanic voyage), Eskimo masks were usually discarded after use.
References to the owl's features and the possible relationship to snow goggles associated with hunting expeditions can be read as symbolic representations related to the shamanic journey.
This Inupiaq mask is redolent with mystery and poetry.