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Essay about Art History

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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 col...


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...d that is linked to the ‘Transformation’. Native Americas shared the transformation theme, and it was a common feature of Kwakwaka’wakw masks. The mask is designed to be opened and closed by a hidden string, which the dancer change their figures back and forth between an animal and a human spirit. (Kleiner, p. 864) By representing both human and animal figure at a time, the mask embodied mythological idea of appreciation and celebration of life and Kwakwaka’wakw people’s tries to interact with the world.
Considering descendants’ effort to bring this culture back in society, this entire dancing performance, masks, and the idea of interacting with the outside world must not have been merely correlated to their religious and spiritual ritual. It might have been their identity; a symbolic of their society which their ancestors had built and passed down to them.



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