Inuit Figure

Archives | Alaska

Inuit Figure

Alaska

Inuit culture

19th century
Carved walrus tooth
Height: 5 ½ in. (14 cm)

Ex private collection, USA

Sold
Stylization of features, alliance of naturalism and symbolism, sculptural finesse, sobriety and a hieratic quality—these are the key features characterizing Ancient Eskimo art from Alaska.
Fascinating manifestos tracing the development of culture and survival in the environs of the North Pole, archaic Eskimo cultures have left an exceptional artistic legacy in the form of marine ivory sculptures of an incomparable expressivity.

According to Fitzhugh et Kaplan (see Inua: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimo, 1982: 156), these shamanic figurines were carved for several purposes: to stand in for people absent from the village during festivals, to avert infertility, or else to focus the attention of animal inua (spirit) during the Doll Festival, which was held to bless hunting and fishing expeditions in the coming year.
Other ethnographic parallels recorded in the early 20th century demonstrate that figurines could be used as personal “assistants” and “spiritual helpers” to capture prey or as “guardians” to safeguard humankind from those physical and spiritual dangers encountered in the landscape.
The literature also describes other functions: protecting against disease, serving as birthing amulets, and acting as general household guardians and deities.
On St. Lawrence Island (Sivuqaq), guardian spirits communicated with their human companions in dreams and advised them of specific ceremonial activities to avoid sickness or to bring the family success in hunting. In such cases, spiritual assistants seemingly provided their human masters with a means to actively intervene in the cosmos.
Among the Chukchi of Siberia, guardian spirits were also believed to be embodied in specific kinds of human and animal figurines.

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