Art History Essay

1382 words - 6 pages

Crooked Beak of Heaven Mask is a big bird-figure mask from late nineteenth century made by Kwakwaka’wakw tribe. Black is a broad color over the entire mask. Red and white are used partially around its eyes, mouth, nose, and beak. Its beak and mouth are made to be opened, and this leads us to the important fact in both formal analysis and historical or cultural understanding: Transformation theme. Keeping that in mind, I would like to state formal analysis that I concluded from the artwork itself without connecting to cultural background. Then I would go further analysis relating artistic features to social, historical, and cultural background and figure out what this art meant to those people.
It seems the mask got some scratches and its vivid colors have faded. Since it does not have any huge crack or abrasion, however, those changes would not disturb viewer’s appreciation. If I had not known this artwork’s title in advance, it would have taken me more time to figure out what animal this mask is representing. Even after knowing this is a bird mask, it still looks like a human or other animal figure at some points. When it is seen only the head part without its beak, the straws above and back of its head reminds me of human hair rather than bird feather, so it looks like a man with big eye. Crooked beak does not seem to be bird’s beak either. It looks more like other animal which is wilder and fiercer than bird, with horn or bumpy mouth. These features in appearance made me take more time to watch this mask. Its color also plays a role in catching people’s eyes. In the dominant and broad black color, red and white contrast with black and stand out well. Even though, colors used are limited and the mask has lost its color and became less bright, the colors still make the mask conspicuous. The mask is fully painted but it does not hide the texture of the wood. When we take a close look, we can see the grain of wood. Addition to that, the mask is displayed its mouth been opened. This let people guess this bird’s mouth can be opened, then their eyes follow back to the head of it and find the string to open the mouth of the mask. These two features are not only related to the visual sense but also to the sense of touch, so it’s more like spatial and synesthetic.
This mask has more chance to have been made by a male tribe member. Through the many Native American societies, men and women had different roles, and it was the same in art work. Women were in charge of pottery making, weaving, making clothing, and so forth. (Kleiner, p. 863) Since it seems women were mostly working on arts which are directly associated with domestic cares. Whoever the artist was, the artist got a theme of this mask from religious performance. It is already widely known that many Native American tribes have their own cultures and religion which are differentiated from the other and very distinct from modern ones. In respect that animism has been often found...

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