hall of the masks
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The Hall of Masks.
Masking traditions in the Crossroads region reflect the divergent worldviews of the peoples of Siberia and Alaska (see the introduction to this room).

Click in the picture for a closer look at masks of the peoples of Siberia (on the left) or the peoples of Alaska (on the right).
Click on the doorway at the far end to visit the Ekven Burial Chamber.

Video introduction:
- Video for Windows (1.5 Mb)
- Quicktime (1.6 Mb)


Introduction to the Hall of Masks

Geographically, the artistic panorama of the North Pacific consists of two distinct groups, one American and the other Siberian. Only in the cases of Asian and Inupiat Eskimo, who share opposite sides of the Bering Strait, and the Eskimo-influenced Maritime Chukchi is there evidence of significant overlap. Quintessentially American, the great carved memorial (totem) posts of the Haida, the elaborate winter ceremonial masks of the Kwakiutl, the elegant formline art of the Tlingit, and the less well known but equally artistic clothing, carved ivory, and ceremonial arts of the Aleut, Athapaskan, and Eskimo peoples have added immeasurably to the world's great art traditions. Less well known to North Americans are the works of Northeastern Siberian peoples; the formal elegance of Amur fish-skin clothing, the embroidered and beaded costumes of Even shamans, the stunning design of Koryak funeral coats, and the sculptural work of Koryak and Chukchi ivory carvers.

Within Siberian and American regional traditions, the function of art varied according to economic and social conditions. In northwestern North America, hunting art was still dominant everywhere at the time of European discovery. The people did not view themselves as dominant over dumb, mute beasts that served them; neither did they see themselves as dependent on or subordinate to the animals. On the contrary, they viewed the relationship between men and animals as collaborative reciprocity by which the animals gave themselves to the hunter in response to the hunter's respectful treatment of them as nonhuman persons. Transformation masks are a vivid portrayal of this perception of reality.

Archeological data indicates the former presence of masking and hunting art in Siberia, but by the time of the first historical accounts in the 16th century, few traces remained. This process had begun at least 2,000 years ago when reindeer pastoralism and technological developments (especially metalworking) and their economic and social consequences began to transform Siberian hunting cultures into more specialized, production-oriented (as opposed to subsistence-oriented) societies. The economic and religious basis for hunting art was incompatible with the ascendant philosophy of human manipulation of the natural world. These changes were manifested in Siberian art by reduction of animal-based themes and increased use of strictly anthropomorphic forms.

- William W. Fitzhugh and Aron Crowell

Return to the Hall of Masks
Alaskan Masks Ekven Burial Chamber Siberian Masks