One of the delights of the new collection at the De Young is the opportunity to see the work of Eskimo and Inuit artists who are using the traditional materials, respecting the spirituality of their native traditions but producing art works that speak to the current issues confronting native peoples in a fresh and beautiful way. Susie Silook is a Yupik/inupiaq writer, carver and sculptor from St. Lawrence Island. Traditionally sculpture has only been done by men; not only has she broken with this part of the tradition but her carvings and sculptures depict women, rather than men and animals as had been done in the past. Her themes are the issues confronting contemporary Alaskans including high unemployment, alcoholism and violence, especially violence against women.
In this piece, "Sedna with Mask" (1999) Susie portrays the goddess Sedna with a shaman's mask, reaching into the soul. It's a haunting piece, speaking to the healing of the wounded female soul through reconnecting with the ancient goddess of her people. (Walrus tusk, sea mammal whiskers, baleen, wale bone, metal and pigment, 1999). There are two other stunning pieces in the current display, "Inside my mind" and "Looking into myself." Both pieces utilize traditional materials of bone and ivory but in a completely unique way.
The exhibit opens with a piece by Abraham Anghik Ruben which I don't have an image of. Titled "Passage of Spirits," it's a boat containing both human and animal forms. The sea goddess Setna sits at the bow of the boat whose antler sails represent the swirling firmament or perhaps the smoke that comes forth from lamps, lighting the way in a dark universe.
Article on Susie Silook:
Images courtesy Andrew Fox/FAMSM