Artifact Reflection – Giinaruaq Mask

The Giinaruaq Masks displayed in the Alaska State Library Archive Museum (SLAM) originate from the Sugpiaq/Alutiiq communities spanning the Southcentral and Western Maritime territories of Alaska, stretching from across the Alaska Peninsula, the Kodiak Archipelago, the outer Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound.

IMG_2488The Giinaruaq (Ginaruaq meaning a face that is not a face) were donated by Mrs. Alyce Anderson and were found in the Old Savonoski Site, a former Native village site that was buried by ash in the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta Volcano. The dates of the masks’ creation and finding are unknown.

I was initially drawn to these masks because of my personal interest in the symbolism behind masks of various cultures (during my time studying Classical antiquities in Greece, I had the opportunity to see various Mycenaean funerary masks), but I developed an insatiable curiosity when I read the following quote written on the display plaque:

There were spirit masks…once they were used they were put away and you were not to touch them or bother them.”

-Mary Jane Angasan Nielson,
Katmai descendant

The description continued to state that “after use, masks were often broken, burnt, or hidden away in caves. This was a way of removing the power of the mask.” Are these masks currently in use? What does it mean that they are put on display in a museum, visited by hundreds of people each day? Can a museum be sacred? The politics behind Museums is a topic that I want to touch on in my lesson plan, thus the presence of these masks in the SLAM posed some very challenging questions for me.

Furthermore, I am curious about the function of these masks, which was broadly described to be for ceremonies involving funerals, celebrations, pre-hunting rituals, etc… Do the functions determine the artistry of the Giinaruaq? How do the physical features of the masks connect with the spirituality and values within them? I hope that throughout the development of  my lesson plan, I will be able to explore these questions in depth.

{Giinaruaq mask, ||-A-1560} courtesy of Alaska State Museum – Juneau

2 thoughts on “Artifact Reflection – Giinaruaq Mask”

  1. Chris- you have smooth writing and snazzy layout. (You’ve utilized—but not over-utilized—the wordpress platform.)
    Your artifact choice is great. “A face that is not a face?” Cool. I’m intrigued by this already and want to learn more.
    Fun fact: I used to HATE museums (admits me, anthropology major). It was not until I also became intrigued by the politics of museums that I am fascinated by them. In fact, we stand to learn nothing from museums unless we investigate these factors: why is this here? What intentional message is being sent, to whom, by whom? Who is FUNDING this?

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