As we’ve been doing this countdown some people have become uncomfortable about the Native American masks. Many Native nations have masks that are not costumes as such, but are the embodiments of living beings, sacred beings, and can be used only in ceremonies. Some have strict rules attached: it might be that children, or women, or anyone not a member of the society that holds the mask, are not allowed to see them when they’re not in use.
There’s also the extremely prickly question of the sale of Native art — see SJ’s first post — both for the above reason, and because a lot of it wasn’t “collected,” it was flat-out stolen. Or sold by tribal members who had no right to dispose of it; or was the property of people whose settlements were looted after they’d been killed.
These are serious issues and we take them seriously. Nothing we’re using falls into those categories. All the Native American masks we’re posting are from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, which is Native-run, or from tribal museums, or from institutions like the Brooklyn Museum where the curators have consulted with the nations whose artists made the masks in question. All these masks have been approved for display by representatives of their makers’ nations. Some weren’t made for ceremonial use at all, but for display or sale. We’re not using images of items these museums have been asked not to display. Nor are we using any auction images.
So relax and admire the masks. Their makers — unlike the maker of the mask in SKIN OF THE WOLF — would want you to.