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104. Male mask and shaman’s kikituk familiar

In continuing the artistic and cultural narrative of the Inupiat people (Inupiat is the region/people; Inupiaq is the language), Bobby Nashookpuk faithfully executes the aesthetic principles and native beliefs of his ancestors through his preferred artistic medium-sculpture. Specifically, Nashookpuk is an Inupiat mask carver whose works often exhibit a fusion of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic quali- ties. The principal work discussed in this essay, called Male mask and shaman's kikituk familiar, was finished in 2005 in the artist's village of Point Hope, located at the northwest tip of Alaska. It is a masterfully carved modern artifact that serves as a testament to the creativity of the Inupiat people. As expressed by Kent R. Olson: "This mask, in my opinion, is the artist's contemporary interpretation, based on traditional antecedents, of the dualistic nature of Inupiat life-human and animal, secular and ceremonial, positive and negative powers"(Olson 2008:75A INU).

Prior to modern governmental intervention, most Inuit people1 lived nomadic lives in the wild, where they depended on fishing and hunting animals, such as walrus, for their existence. In its simplicity, the kikituk embodies the essence and philosophies of nomadic life.

This mask simultaneously is a man and beast's face. Carved from a block of what is believed to be yellow cedar or alder, Nashookpuk renders an authentic and intimidating portrait of Inupiat belief: that man and beast are one in essence and form. The insertion of 27 teeth on the bottom jaw and eight teeth on the top of the mouth, all made from walrus tusk, adds an imposing element to the artist's dualistic vision. Inspired by the traditional rendering of male Inupiat masks, Nashookpuk relies on the aesthetic power of minimalistic sculptural form and virtuoso faceting, unlike the exuber- ant Yupiit masks of the Bering Sea coast that rely more on ornamentation and color (Molly Lee in University of Alaska Museum et al. 1998:75).

The traditional Inupiat male mask is differentiated from the female mask by its heavier brow (Molly Lee in University of Alaska Museum et al. 1998:75), which easily can be identi- fied in this artwork. "The masks' drama was intensified in the illumination of the oil lamp in the men's house (qagri), where ceremonies and secular dance performances were held" (Molly Lee in University of Alaska Museum et al. 1998:75). The ceremonies were oriented around appeasing the ani-
mal world (which was vital to the survival of the nomadic Inupiat), whereas the secular dance performances were purely for entertainment (Molly Lee in University of Alaska Museum et al. 1998:75).

Nashookpuk's kikituk reflects the apparatus used by the Inupiat shaman during ceremonial rituals. The traditional kikituk creature, unique to the Point Hope area, is a strange and wonderful entity that is ensconced in a cloud of myth and lore (Molly Lee in University of Alaska Museum et al. 1998:164). Traditionally, it was fashioned as a stubby four- legged reptilian dog-like being, here expressed as just the essence in the mask. Being both good and evil, this creature could kill at short range with great efficiency and also could cure diseases by biting the ailing person with its horrible, cackling jaws. It is said the kikituk could travel great dis- tances to duel with other shamans' kikituks (Molly Lee in University of Alaska Museum et al. 1998:165). Nashookpuk tapped into this rich and engaging part of Inupiat lore to create his own rendition.

Two works, specifically two Inupiat prints in the Augustana College art collection, further emphasize the dualistic nature of Inupiat culture. Confrontations (Fig. 6), created in 1986 by Inupiat artists Victoria Mamnguqsualuk and Magdalene Ukpatiku, depicts two Inuits being attacked by bears, snake/lizards and a spirit that is man, bear and wolf. The basic theme expressed in this work is the inexplicable confronta- tion of man and beast in the wild. The other work, titled Sometimes Animals Look Like People, completed in 1985 by Mamnguqsualuk and Irene Avaalaaqiaq, depicts a scene featuring a central figure that has the body of a human and the head of bird. To the right of the birdman is a human figure with a fish coming out of his/her mouth, and with snakes surrounding the figure. Other animal/human figures are depicted as well, creating a wild scene of man and beast interconnected in both spirit and form.

Together, these two works, along with other Inupiat prints in the Augustana collection, reinforce and further illuminate the themes and traditions that Nashookpuk utilizes in his kikituk mask. By fusing traditional motifs and beliefs with contempo- rary knowledge and skill, Nashookpuk successfully keeps the Inupiat spirit alive through his artwork.

-Joshua P. Schipp (Augustana 2010)







Bobby Nashookpuk (b. 1958, Inupiat, Point Hope, Alaska), Male mask and shaman’s kikituk familiar, dual sculpture, 2005, Carved yellow cedar or alder and walrus ivory, The Olson-Brandelle North American Indian Art Collection, Augustana College, (75A INU) 2008.24.2