Yup’ik mask

Archives | Alaska

Yup’ik mask

Alaska

Shaman’s dual mask
Man-Seal inua spirit
St. Michael, Alaska

Carved wood, leather and pigments
Late 19th century
Height: 9 in. (23 cm )

Collected in Anvik, Alaska
Ex collection Heye Foundation, Museum of the American Indian, inventory # 5/941
Sold in 1944 to Julius Carlebach (1909-1964)
Ex Carlebach Gallery, New York
Ex collection Jeffrey R. Myers, New York
Ex collection Pinchas Mendelson, New York, acquired from the above in 2003
By descent

Published: Faces, visible - invisible, April 2021
Sold
The Subarctic region inhabited by the Yup'ik is well supplied with land and sea resources allowing for much time that could be devoted to a full ceremonial life. After freeze-up in the winter, performance cycles were undertaken that were important to maintaining proper human, animal, and spirit-world interactions. Performed inside the qasgiq (communal men's house) during festivals, dances feature face and finger masks that make visible the world of helping spirits and extraordinary beings, and are specially made to tell particular stories. Often used by shamans to facilitate communication and movement between worlds (human and animal, the living and the dead), Yup'ik masks usually were discarded after use.

This intensely poetic yet powerful mask symbolizes the shamanic voyage and the physical/visual transformations it occurs.
The center of the mask is illuminated by a smiling face while the naturalistic representation of a seal head with open jaws conveys a sense of strength and mystery.
This type of representation associating symbols of both the animal and human world constitutes the very essence of Yup'ik beliefs and iconography.

This mask is a surrealist manifesto in itself!

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