The Yup’ik people have inhabited Sub-Arctic Alaska for thousands of years. To maintain balance with the environment, Yup’ik culture has developed rich traditions of dancing and story-singing. Some of the annual dances held in the qasgi, or ceremonial house, include the wearing of elaborate masks. Yup’ik masks are traditionally the creation of the village angalkuq, or shaman, who creates masks in accordance with dreams or visions. In this exhibition, the work of the angalkuq Ikamrailnguq is featured, a creator of some of the best-known Yup’ik masks in existence. Masks are often destroyed after a ceremony, but with the arrival of traders in the late 19th century, masks became an exchange item for trade goods, which later became part of museum collections. Since collectors often were unaware of the inter-related nature of masks, most masks were separated.
The four dance masks in this exhibition represent the Yup’ik windmaker spirit, Tumaneq. Created in the early 1900s, the masks were separated over time, each ending up in a different location: the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC; the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles; and the Menil Collection in Houston. This exhibition reunites these four masks after many years apart, the first time they have been together in Alaska for more than a century.
This exhibition is made possible through the charitable support of Eunice J. Silberer.