Faces of the Circumpolar World

By Zuk, Bill; Dalton, Robert | Art Education, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Faces of the Circumpolar World


Zuk, Bill, Dalton, Robert, Art Education


INTRODUCTION

The human face has fascinated artists throughout the ages. Facial expressions speak about universal aspects of human experience. Some of the earliest faces created by artists from the circumpolar world were carved of mammoth tusk 12,00 years ago in Siberia. Carvings dating back 2,000 years have also been found in Greenland and Arctic Canada. Sometimes faces were scratched on the surface or carved in high relief as nearly three-dimensional figures. Their pose, adornment, style, context, and medium provide clues to the customs and beliefs of cultures very different from our own.

Among the more interesting carvings are multiple faces in antler, bone, or ivory. At first glance, one might interpret these clustered faces as a crowd of people or a family, but they were more likely associated with shamanistic rituals which invoked spirit helpers to cure illnesses. Complex masks were used in dance ceremonies to make the unseen world of magic and spirits visible. Faces carved in wood were often painted and surrounded by double-circle frameworks supporting hands, paws, and other appendages. Masks added drama to stories, songs, and dances, but more importantly brought the cultural history alive by invoking the spirits of ancestors.

Many of today's indigenous circumpolar artists understand the importance of retaining traditional beliefs, values, and customs, but they also realize that new perspectives are needed in response to new influences. Comparing traditional and innovative artworks through the use of paired reproductions is an effective method for developing an appreciation of artistic heritage in the context of social change. This resource investigates two artworks from Greenland and two from Alaska.

GREENLANDIC CULTURE

Over a 4,500-year period, people migrated to Greenland, Kalaallit Nunaat. For the last 2,000 years permanent habitation has existed in the coastal regions, even though much of the country is continually covered in ice.

The early inhabitants were hunters traveling in small groups or single families. They wandered from the Bering Strait to eastern Greenland following migrating game. Conditions were extremely harsh: unimaginably low temperatures and wind-chill, ice-locked waters, and snow most of the year. Survival depended on the manufacture of bone and stone tools, and success in hunting big game animals such as caribou, musk-ox, walrus, polar bear, and whales.

Despite these extreme conditions, the people had time and energy to produce small, expressively detailed carvings of humans and animals. Their preoccupation with human form and decorative elements has continued over thousands of years and remains a hallmark of contemporary artwork in Greenland.

Carved Face

Anonymous Eskimo Artist, late 1800s. Carved wood, sinew, beads; 14 1/2" H (37 cm). Collection: Greenland National Museum, Nuuk.

DESCRIPTION AND CULTURAL CONTEXT

This oval, wooden mask carved at the end of the 19thcentury features a woman's face with deeply carved horizontal lines thought to represent tattoo markings. A fashionable hair style of the times, the top knot, adorns the head. It is tied with a ribbon of white sealskin and hanging from it are four sinew threads with fish vertebrae and a few glass beads. Tattooing was relatively widespread among indigenous people of the circumpolar world. It was usually confined to women and most commonly found on the face. The technique of tattooing involved a pricking method. In some regions dotted markings were used while in others lines were made by a sooted thread pulled through the skin. In those tattoos, significant events were recorded for all to read-becoming a woman, marriage, or the birth of children. Vertical stripes on the chin, for example marked the first seal caught by a woman's eldest son.

Blue Mask

Thue Christiansen 992.

Acrylic painting, 15 1/4" H x 12 3/4" W (39 x 32. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Faces of the Circumpolar World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.