Friday, March 7, 2014

1001 Faces at B2 Gallery

The Weekly Volcano, March 6, 2014

Owl Pair Changing Shape by Terresa White
I entered the 1001 Faces Exhibition at B2 Gallery with less than stellar expectations, after having been inundated with tribal masks over the 20-odd years since moving to the Pacific Northwest. But I must say I was pleasantly surprised and even moved by some of the contemporary masks in this show.

The show features ceremonial, tribal masks from around the world, both archival and contemporary. The archival works are not attributed to individual artists but are identified only by tribe or nation. Featured contemporary artists are Peruvian wood carver Enrique Leon, Skokomish artist John Edward Smith, Yuep'ik Eskimo artist Terresa White, Maori carver Takirirangi Smith, and — surprise of surprises, local artist Ric Hall, who is not a member of any Native nation.

Hall’s contribution to the show is a scary-looking mask called “The Alchemist” made entirely of little sticks of driftwood. This alchemist is a fierce creature.

The star among the contemporary artists is White, a Yup'ik Eskimo now living in Portland whose family hails from Alaska. White’s masks are distinctively contemporary and individualistic while drawing heavily on Eskimo mask-making traditions. Made of fired and painted clay with bird feathers, shells, bones and other materials, they depict transformations between humans and animals. Most of her masks have one bird eye and one human eye, which gives them a frightening aspect, and typically the two halves of their faces are quite different.

White’s “Owl Pair Changing Shape” is a pair of small, round masks that are mirror images of one another with feathers growing out of part-human and part-owl heads and eerie chalky white paint on half of each. Her “Tattooed Elder Becoming a Bird” has an elongated face that is half silver and half brown with large feathers sprouting from its forehead. Bird heads sprout from her figures’ chins and mouths.

In quite a different approach, White’s small bronze sculpture “Walrus Dance Transformation” is a full standing figure of a dancer wearing a walrus mask with a boxing glove on one hand and one leg transforming itself into a fish tail. Her work is inventive and exquisitely crafted.

Among the best of the archival works is a full standing figure from Africa called “Songye Nail Fetish.” The carved wood figure has a face for a belly and a fully carved head with rusty nails driven into the body in a circular formation and woven rope strung between the nails. Like Hall’s “The Alchemist,” this one is fierce and powerful.
There is a large group of colorful painted wood masks by Léon, whose decorative masks blend traditions of ancient Peruvian and Pacific Northwest Native art, some based on pre-Incan designs (born in Peru, Léon has lived in the Northwest since 2004 has worked with Native carvers).

The masks from Maori carver Takirirangi Smith had not yet arrived when I saw the show.

Special events in conjunction with the exhibition include “The Healing Power of the Mask,” a two-day workshop March 22-23, and “Some Words, Some Masks,” a night of poetry and role playing, March 23. More information on the B2 website at

[B2 Fine Art Gallery, SPIN 1: 1001 Faces Exhibition, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 9 p.m. Third Thursdays, through April 19, 711 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, 253.238.5065]

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