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Giinaquq (Like A Face): Sugpiaq Masks of the Kodiak Archipelago

October 12, 2008 - January 4, 2009


In the winter of 1872 a young French anthropologist named Alphonse Pinart traveled the Kodiak archipelago by kayak, assembling one of the most extensive collections of Alutiiq ceremonial masks in the world. Masks from Pinart's collection returned to Alaska last summer for the first time in 136 years to tell the Alutiiq story and inspire Alaskans to explore the rich culture of Kodiak's Native people. (right: A young visitor enjoys viewing masks at the Giinaquq exhibition at the Anchorage Museum. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Museum)

Giinaquq (Like A Face) on view October 12, 2008 through January 4, 2009 at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, features 34 wood masks and a bird-shaped feast bowl collected from villages on the Kodiak archipelago. The exhibition, six years in planning, highlights the cultural meaning of these historic carvings as well as their beauty.

"These masks have been viewed as art objects for many years; it's time to illustrate their place in Alutiiq society," said exhibition organizer and Alutiiq Museum Executive Director Sven Haakanson Jr. "We want people to understand that they are not just beautiful carvings, but part of an Alutiiq tradition of recording and sharing history."

"During festivals, our people used masks to tell stories, to pass information about events and beliefs to others. Each mask had its own song, created by the carver to help tell its story."

The exhibit includes songs associated with some of the masks. The songs were recorded by Pinart and recently retranslated by Alutiiq elders working with Haakanson and Jeff Leer, a University of Alaska linguist.

Pinart's mask collection came to the United States for exhibition through a collaboration between Kodiak's Alutiiq Museum and Château Musée in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a municipal museum in northern France.

Sven Haakanson and Anne-Claire Laronde, curator of the Château Musée, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, developed the exhibition.


About the Alphonse Pinart and Alutiiq Masks

During the winter of 1872-1873, Alphonse Pinart, a young French ethnographer, traveled around the Kodiak archipelago by kayak, collecting objects from Alutiiq communities. Seventy ceremonial masks -- traditional religious carvings used by Alutiiq hunters at winter festivals -- were among his most important acquisitions. Pinart recognized both the artistic and cultural value of these unique pieces, collecting the names and songs associated with many. He eventually deposited his collection in a small French Museum -- the Château Museé in Boulogne-sur-Mer, where they miraculously survived the ruin of two world wars.

This remarkable collection contains the largest known set of Alutiiq masks, carved in the traditional style, by some of the last artists to learn their trade through apprenticeship. For Alutiiqs, Pinart's assemblage is a treasure trove, an unbelievable store of ancestral information and inspiration. Yet the masks lies over 8,000 miles from Kodiak, inaccessible to the Alutiiq people. (right: Angun (Old Man), Alutiiq mask from the Kodiak archipelago made of cotton and paint, collected in 1872. Photo courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska)

The people of Kodiak learned about the collection just 10 years ago, when anthropological studies began to uncover the value of the objects. Since then, there has been a enduring interest in the objects, and the detailed record of ancestral practies they hold. More than 200 years of Western colonization made an indelible impact on Alutiiq traditions, changing the culture rapidly. Collections like Pinart's allow Alutiiqs to reach back in time to reclaim pieces of their lost and hidden history and to reincorporate them in modern expressions of their identity.

To enhance access to the Pinart collection, the Alutiiq Museum has been working with the Château Museé and the City of Boulogne-sur-Mer to develop opportunities for friendship, and exchange. After five years of collaboration, the Boulogne has granted permission for 33 mask and a feast bowl to travel to Alaska. The objects will be part of an eight-month exhibition titled Giinaquq: Like A Face, in Kodiak and Anchorage.

In January 2007, a community planning conference funded by Conoco-Phillips Alaska brought Elders, artists, educators, and village representatives together with members of the exhibition team to conceptualize all aspects of the project. The result was a three-pronged plan to develop an exhibition, a professional exhibition catalog, and educational events.



Giinaquq (Like A Face) is accompanied by a full color, peer reviewed exhibition catalogue with articles on Alphonse Pinart, Alutiiq culture in the 19th century, the collection, Alutiiq artists today, and detailed photographs of all 70 masks collected by Pinart. Two Journeys: A Companion to the Giinaquq - Like A Face Exhibition is produced by Koniag Inc. and published by the Alutiiq Museum. The catalogue is available for purchase in the Anchorage Museum Shop. (left: front cover of Two Journeys: A Companion to the Giinaquq - Like A Face Exhibition. Image courtesy of Amazon.com)


About the collaborating museums

Founded in 1995, the nationally acclaimed Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository, Kodiak, Alaska, USA, preserves and shares the cultural traditions of Alaska's Alutiiq people. Exhibits, programs and publications tell the Alutiiq story, promote cultural pride, and invite others to share in the celebration of Native heritage. This non-profit organization in governed by eight Kodiak Alutiiq organizations that represent all of the region's Native people.

A municipal museum in the northern seaport of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Chateau Musée, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France boasts an impressive international collection. Founded in 1825 around a set of antiques, the museum grew to house assemblages of Greek and Egyptian antiquities, ethnographic items from Alaska and the South Pacific, and French historical collections. Today these materials are cared for in a medieval castle built between 1227-1231 by Philippe Hurepel, the son of French King Philippe Auguste.


About the exhibition curators

Born and raised in the rural Kodiak Island community of Old Harbor, Alaska, Sven Haakanson, Jr. is a member of the Old Harbor Alutiiq Tribe. He holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a doctorate in anthropology from Harvard University. Since 2000, Haakanson has worked to share Native American perspectives with museums and museum practices with Native people as executive director of the nationally acclaimed Alutiiq Museum. Haakanson has made collections more accessible to Native communities by researching objects in the world's museums, and developing traveling exhibits and educational resources around the information they hold. In 2007, his work was honored with a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

Educated in Paris, Anne-Claire Laronde is an archaeologist and museum curator. She studied at the Ecole de Louvre and the University of Paris (La Sorbonne), earning a bachelor's degree in archaeology in 2000 and a master's degree in art history in 2001. In 2002 she completed her national curator's certificate and began two years of curatorial training at the French Ministry of Culture. Laronde has led the Château Musée since 2006.


(above: Nakirnalik (Snub-Nosed One), An Alutiiq mask from the Kodiak archipelago, collected in 1872. Photo courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska)


(above: Ashik (Got Lucky), Alutiiq mask from the Kodiak archipelago made of spruce, paint, tendons, cotton, feather remnants, collected in 1872. Photo courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska)


(above: Temciyusqaq (Skeptical One), Alutiiq mask from the Kodiak archipelago made of spruce, collected in 1872. Photo courtesy of the Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska)


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