Behind the masks

We explored masks of many traditions at our Family Day: MASKarade on Saturday, February 22. Ethnology & History Collections Manager Angela Linn showed off a treasure trove of masks from Alaska’s native cultures. And visitors took turns trying on a variety of disguises. The Inu-Yupiaq Dance Group also performed their stories, complete with masks.

Christopher Bringhurst, a UAF fine art student, was on hand to demonstrate the art of mask carving. He says he watched his mother carving at a young age and wanted to do what she was doing. Now he is exploring his own creative methods.

Bringhurst said he was going to spend his S aturday working on masks anyway, so he was happy to do it at the museum. He displayed the tools he uses and examples of the different stages the tedious work of a mask carver takes.

Museum Educator Maïté Agopian wanted visitors to see the diversity of masks and that the tradition is present in cultures around the world, “They take different shapes and significances, from religious to theatrical; they can be mocking, or just an artistic pursuit. Masks reflect a culture and its environment through the materials that are used and the stories they tell.”

Marks are traditional. They are about the past and the present. Agopian said that watching a young dancer and a young carver was a way to show that the tradition carries on today. “It is not only something displayed on a wall in an exhibit space.”

The museum is a place where the community can share the amazing collection we have, thanks to our collection managers and curators who are tasked with caring for our 1.4 million plus objects in perpetuity.

"Our educational task is to balance between past and the present, between artifacts on a wall and living traditions, changing science and new technologies," Agopian said. "We need to show how past and present are connected and how they reflect on each other."

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