Masks of the
a Speaker (1930),
The Vancouver Art Gallery has an ongoing commitment to collecting and exhibiting historical and contemporary work by indigenous peoples. "Down from the Shimmering Sky", a show of more than 175 masks created by native artists of the Pacific Northwest Coast, is one of the largest projects ever mounted by the gallery.
From the earliest masks of the spirits who were believed to descend from the heavens in human form, to 19th Century animals and creatures symbolizing the four cosmos, from 20th Century secular masks to masks produced for sale, the exhibit demonstrates diversity and a range of innovation.
The ceremonial mask in particular is perceived as a manifestation of powerful ancestral spirits. It preserves the stories, status and values of the owners and makers. To protect the privileges and rights associated with each mask, the curatorial process involved the advice and permission of representatives of the ten First Nations on the Northwest Coast.
The project also includes an enormous programme of public lectures, artist talks and demonstrations, school programs and hands-on learning activities. An extensively-illustrated 192-page book further documents the history and traditions of the mask.
© Mia Johnson