A Shaman Transformation Mask

30 March 2020

This Yupik transformation mask was a shaman’s tool. It was imbued with the spirit of the seal, a sea mammal essential to the survival of the Inuit and related peoples. The animal head is sculpted in the mask lower part which might serve as a handle.

Due to its stylistic similarities to other creations by the same Master preserved in American museums, this mask can doubtlessly be attributed to the “Seal-Box” Master. His masks are distinctive in that the upper box-like structure is a stylized human face with large, open ovoid eyes. Sometimes the mask is topped with three split feather quills, each with little tufts at their tips to accentuate the movement of a dancer.

Mask. Yupik, Norton Sound, Saint-Michael Bay, Alaska, United States. C. 1890. Lightwood, white pigments, feathers. H. 24.5 cm. Inv. 900-1. Photo Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet. Musée Barbier-Mueller.

As shown on the photo below, the artist Silvia Bächli brought this mask into dialogue with a gouache on paper by her own hand in the exhibition Faraway Arts, So Close in Silvia Bächli’s Eyes which she curated in 2018.

Photo Luis Lourenço, Musée Barbier-Mueller

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