Made of calcite, caribou antler, musk ox horn and commericial cotton fiber, this "Passage of Spirits"" by Ruben is one of the most beautiful and mysterious pieces in the show. The sea goddess Sedna, sits at the bow of the boat, guiding the rowers over the dangerous ocean. The small sculptures in the boat are half human and half animal; features are indicated with minimal and elegant carving. The caribou antler sails could represent the swirling firmament or the smoke that issues from lamps, lighting the way in a dark universe.
Most of the objects on display are of historical importance and show how Eskimo and Inuit peoples rose to the challenge of their difficult environment. Using scarce materials, they created utilitarian items that are both functional and beautiful. But contemporary Native Peoples have had to deal with an economy and a culture that pose even more problems than the harsh winters and dangerous animals of the Far North. European influence, starting with the Russians in the early 19th century brought whiskey, racism, overpriced material goods and disease. For a long time, the actions of the US government weren't much better. Now, the Eskimo and Inuit peoples are facing the destruction of their traditional hunting areas due to global warming along with the high cost of food and other items. At the gallery opening, Susie Silook mentioned that milk costs $10 a gallon. For artists like Silook and Ruben (among others) to affirm their traditional spirituality while creating works of great artistic value is nothing short of miraculous.
image courtesy of Andrew Fox/FAMSF