May 142024
 

Kwakwaka’wakw artist and activist Chief Beau Dick’s (1955-2017) carved masks for the exhibition Walas Gwa’yam / Big, Great Whale at Andrew Kreps Gallery draw you in with their intriguing visages.

From the press release-

Our whole culture has been shattered. It’s up to the artists now to pick up the pieces and try and put them together, back where they belong. Yeah, it does become political. It becomes beyond political; it becomes very deep and emotional.” – Beau Dick speaking in the 2017 film ‘Maker of Monsters: The Extraordinary Life of Beau Dick.

Beau Dick’s works are deeply informed by the tradition of potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony practiced by Indigenous people of the coast of Pacific Northwest Canada, which focused on the redistribution of wealth as a tool for building solidarity. Outlawed by the Canadian Government for nearly seventy years as part of an ongoing history of forced assimilation, the seclusion of Dick’s birthplace on Kingcome Inlet (Gwa’yi) allowed his community to continue practicing customs relatively free from the gaze of colonial authorities. Trained in wood-carving by his father, grandfather, and other master carvers, and completing his education in Vancouver, Dick was acutely aware of inherent tensions between contemporary consumer culture and Kwakwaka’wakw teachings. Refuting his masks as static objects, his carvings reference supernatural figures, like Dzunuk’wa, the “wild woman of the woods,” and her counterpart, Bakwas, “wild man of the woods,” which are reanimated to combat what Dick saw as capitalism’s “ravenous” oppression. Frequently employing his works in dances and performances, in 2012 he took forty Atlakim (Forest) masks to his community in Alert Bay, where after one final ceremony, they were ritually burned, referencing the ongoing responsibility for rebirth, and recreation in the face of erased tradition.

May 172020
 

Jamie Isenstein’s Onions (Mario to Clown Mouse), 2015, from her exhibition Para Drama at Andrew Kreps Gallery in New York in 2015.

From the press release

… And on the wall are a series of photographs of masks wearing masks. By putting on masks the support masks become anthropomorphized into faces so that these inanimate objects come alive. At the same time, the layering of these masks emphasizes their emptiness. Behind the illusions there is nothing. Absurdly, the more masks the masks wear, the deeper the layering of nothingness becomes. Onions, 2015, is a sculpture of many masks layered over the hollow head of a mascot costume. The title of the work refers to a monologue in the Henrik Ibsen play Peer Gynt in which Peer peels away the layers of an onion as he examines the various roles he has played in his life. Eventually he comes to realize there is nothing substantial at the core.