EXHIBITION:Masters of Disguise III: A Group Mask Exhibition
The form of “Nuniaq Arlluk” is based on ancient Alutiiq plank masks, made by the Alutiiq/ Sugpiaq people of Kodiak Island. The artist refers to these sculptures as “plank mask style wall sculptures”. All of the materials in this piece were gathered from around the village of Old Harbor, originally known as Nuniaq by villagers. “Arlluk” is the word for killer whale in the Alutiiq language.
This is a sculpture that has a strong connection to place. From the wires to the wood, the plexiglass to the baleen, most of the materials were picked up by Amason-Berns from fishing gear or old fishing boats on the shore of Old Harbor/ Nuniaq. All of the names on the appendages are local names for fishing areas in the region around Old Harbor, known colloquially as East Side. The names functioned almost as code-words: fishermen in the 20th century would use them to talk on the radio about where the best fishing was at that moment. Most of these names are now forgotten, but there are a few elders that know them, and Lena has worked with locals who are collecting them to preserve them.
While Amason-Berns had been planning to create a Killerwhale plank mask for a while, the final concept of the piece came to her after an experience from last summer. Upon hearing that a pod of killerwhales was expected to arrive in the water around the village, she and her sister-in-laws and their children hopped into a skiff to see them. At first they saw one family, about ten in all. Then, they counted another pod. And then another. And another. And another. They stopped counting when they reached a hundred. It was the largest killerwhale convergence any of them had ever seen — a peaceful group fishing session that lasted the afternoon, and then broke up as the pods all went their own ways.