November 17, 2008

I wrote yesterday about the masks in France and their potential return to Alaska. My Grandmother told me a story once about a huge piece of mastodon ivory our family had in Bethel.

A man from the lower 48 had his eye on it for some museum. But what the man did was terrible, he got one of my Grandma's Uncle's drunk and bought the piece for some whiskey. This is not the first story I have heard about how priceless art pieces have found their way into museums or collections.

It is up to this generation to seek the pieces of the past and bring them home. I believe like my mom, and ancestors that the masks carry a spirit. That spirit is now separated from it's origin.....split from itself. Sometimes I think that there is a growing split in my own culture with the Yup'ik language dying out and not being used anymore, our subsistence way of life under constant attack and urban sprawl coming to our villages.

I have heard about this half Yup'ik man who lives in New York or somewhere back east who carves masks copying them from the Smithsonian. Is that really our culture? How different is that from the Chinese copying our artwork and selling it. There is a difference - the culture, the stories, the meanings are not there anymore. That man copying his ancestors did not learn his craft from an elder, does not know the stories behind the masks he is a fraud but his artwork sells and is in many galleries. He is exploiting the Yup'ik culture like many collectors have for centuries.



ethanjwilkinson said...

Like you advised me, I think you should do the same and try to spice your page up.

Phillip said...

Kris, Waqaa? You seen to have a very dark outlook on the continuation of our traditions and the importance of our values as conveyed in traditional work utilizing contemporary materials. Before you wrote about me, you should have Googled my name; you can find out a great deal about who I am, what I do, and what I believe in; in my spirit, heart, and soul- I am Yup'ik. It appears that you selectively picked up on a small amount of information (inaccurately making references) to state your argument in how unimportant the cosmology is in the entities artist's create; I have to disagree. I see that you've sited me and made a comment about this Half Yup'ik that copies masks who lives in New York or back east which I am slightly offended by. First of all, I don't live back east and I am tied into a large Yup'ik community. Secondly, I worked with Dr. Loring researching and doing conservatory work on all the Yup'ik masks in the Smithsonian's collection helping to repair, visiting with, blessing, and to start preparing them for their journey home.

With the exception of the Nepcetat (which I only make for healers) I challenge you to find any of my masks or sculptures that are copies. The reason I show at the Smithsonian in New York was because of what I do and, more importantly, what it means.

Any of the "Elder" masks I've done were from stories all my apa's and ema's told me and I added newer twists to them. Aside from those, each of my mask & sculptural work has its own meaning, story, and tradition which I've painstakingly recorded in a number of ways as the museums are missing this information.

My first language was Yup'ik until the US government policy employed forced assimilation and acculturation beating me, dragging me through the school by my hair, washing my mouth out with soap, and paddling me into submission in attempt to rid me of my language. I endured much and have worked hard throughout my life to turn the damage caused to our people around.

As a young boy, I spent hours with the elders listening to stories while other children played outside. My Apa took me everywhere making sure I knew who my family was. My mother was born in Kwig and we lived off mission road in Bethel during the summers. The island across from Bethel is our families land allotment and I grew up on that sand bar and fish camp, fishing, picking eggs, smoking salmon, and hunting. I've been fortunate enough to have been in the presence of old Angalkuq's who I remembered from before. I've been healed by an Angalkuq's and understand how dangerous there power is for someone who is unqualified to deal with such things.

When I go home, the elders know me and all call me Aarnaquq meaning "the Dangerous One". I was named after one of the most well respected Angalkuq's in the Kuskokwim region and my grandparents treated me as their grandfather; I know you know what this means.

I was told by the elder's that it was my responsibility to do what I do. That only certain people are allowed to make masks and if I didn't do it, who would? Because we've lost so many of your youth, I push my art and cosmology to the next level to encourage our youth to become involved in creating their own stories. I have a long history working with Native Youth. I've worked with RAHI serving Native students throughout Alaska, taught at alternative Schools with high Native populations, was a liaison between Native People and schools, police, and social workers. I've worked with many programs to promote culture, language, and our cosmology. I was part of two different dance groups. Ossie from Pamyua is my cousin and we always talk about promoting our culture and training our youth. I've done much to promote culture and if you go to any Native village in Alaska, someone will know who I am.

I will be teaching at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in April. I won't be teaching our treasured youth to simply copy masks! I will work in getting them to remember who their spirit is, understanding the deeper connection we all share, and knowing the we are too strong to die.

There is a traditional belief that our healers are coming back some day. It is said that, when it becomes necessary, our healers will remember who they are and will come back stronger then before. I believe in this which is why I continue to do what I do. I believe it is our job to prepare those who have the gifts for the journey they will need to undertake. With this in mind, why do any of us need to copy when "We Are!" ....I know I am...

Aarnaquq Cegg'artuq!