Jul 25 – Oct 31, 2015
Whalebone Wonders showcases three masterworks in whalebone – Revenge by Manasie Akpaliapik, Shaman Playing String Game by Nick Sikkuark, and Shaman Hunter by Augustin Anaittuq – and surrounds them with a number of smaller examples of Inuit artists’ ingenious use of whalebone.
The whalebone used in these sculptures is archeological whalebone – hundreds of years old. (Raw whalebone is too oily to be carved until it has aged for a hundred years or more.) Carving whalebone required great skill and different tools and techniques than carving stone. Adzes and chisels could be used at a very shallow angle to shave away the surface. Files were of little use, since their teeth were clogged by the whalebone particles that were removed. The porous structure of the interior of the bone provided interesting textures, but also made it difficult to depict fine details.
Revenge is a superb example of Manasie Akpaliapik’s ability to discover figures in the bone, and to lead the viewer to discover them through relatively minor modifications to the bone. Created from part of a whale’s pelvis, a caribou antler, and a few inlaid additions, Revenge’s central character speaks for itself. But the sculpture also includes a magnificent eagle (on the sculpture’s left), an owl in full flight (on the back), two spirit heads (on the sculpture’s right) and a caribou head (on the front below the caribou antler).
Revenge also figures in Susie Silook’s brutally contemporary The spirit of vengeance and the destruction of the World Trade Center. Silook, from Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, is a world-recognized contemporary artist, whose work often has one foot in the modern world and another in traditional themes and materials.
The other pieces in the exhibition range from traditional figural pieces (Head and Mother and child) to the shamanic (Shaman playing string game and Two heads) to intricate combinations of whalebone and ivory (Shaman and walrus and Drum dancer and walrus).