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Alaska artists burn giant masks in museum ceremony

  • Author: Bob Hallinen
  • Updated: October 3, 2016
  • Published October 2, 2016

"Aggravated Organizms," a collection of masks carved by Drew Michael and painted by Elizabeth Ellis symbolizing a variety of diseases, first went on display in 2013, and have been touring the state ever since. The large masks represent different diseases or dysfunctions that affect Alaskans, like diabetes, arthritis, HIV and fetal alcohol syndrome.

The 10 masks made their final appearance in a ceremony Saturday night that concluded with their "transformation" by fire.

In accordance with Yup'ik and Alutiiq healing mask traditions, the masks were "danced," performed with a dance and song, on the museum lawn. People in attendance were invited to write down thoughts and sign the backs of masks representing diseases they feel have affected them, their friends and their families.

Then the masks were taken outside to the lawn and burned.

"During times before missionary and western influence masks were shared to tell story of spirit, ancestors, please the spirits of the weather and creator, etc. After the story was shared a mask would be burned, put out in the tundra or given to children to release that story into the spirit world," Michael explained in a press release.

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