Skip Navigation

Wild Man Mask

Arts of the Americas

On View: Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
This mask represents Bak’was, a malevolent, ghostly spirit and the keeper of drowned souls in Kwakwaka’wakw culture. Although he is diminutive, his stride is four times the length of a man’s. He has a green, hairy body and a skeletal visage. Those drawn into the forest by him or who eat his food go mad, losing their souls and becoming part of his ghostly retinue. A soul can be saved by subduing Bak’was with menstrual blood. Bak’was appears when family ancestral masks are worn during performances of Tla’sala potlatch ceremonies, special tribal celebrations.


Esta máscara representa a Bak’was, un espíritu fantasmal malévolo, guardián de las almas ahogadas en la cultura Kwakwaka’wakw. Aunque diminuto, sus pasos son cuatro veces el largo de los de un hombre. Tiene un cuerpo verde y peludo y rasgos esqueléticos. Aquellos empujados al bosque por él, o los que han comido de su comida enloquecen, perdiendo sus almas y volviéndose parte de su séquito fantasmal. El alma puede salvarse sometiendo a Bak’was con sangre menstrual. Bak’was aparece cuando máscaras ancestrales familiares se utilizan en actos de ceremonias de potlatch Tla’sala, celebraciones tribales especiales.

MEDIUM Cedar wood, pigment, hair
  • Place Made: Canada
  • DATES 1970
    DIMENSIONS 11 5/8 x 7 1/2 x 8 1/8 in. (29.5 x 19.1 x 20.6 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1996.203
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Fred Nihda
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
    You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please contact reproductions@brooklynmuseum.org (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact copyright@brooklynmuseum.org.
    CAPTION John H. Livingston. Wild Man Mask, 1970. Cedar wood, pigment, hair, 11 5/8 x 7 1/2 x 8 1/8 in. (29.5 x 19.1 x 20.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Fred Nihda, 1996.203. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1996.203_transp3546.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 1996.203_transp3546.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION This mask represents Bak’was , a malevolent ghostly spirit, the keeper of drowned souls. He can cause loss of reason and sanity and lures those seeking escape into the night woods with a faint firelight where they experience madness, loss of a sense of right and wrong and lose balance and harmony with the world. Victims may survive by finding minimal sustenance on the forest floor or in the intertidal region. As a spirit, although diminutive, he can stride four times the average man. He has a green, hairy body and a skeletal visage. Souls of those drawn into the forest by him or who eat food he offers are lost forever and become part of his ghostly retinue. A soul could possibly be saved by subduing it with menstrual blood. John Livingston (b. 1951) is an adopted Kwakwaka'wakw carver. He became closely involved with master carvers Henry Hunt and Tony Hunt in the 1970s who gave him permission to carve masks and poles. This particular mask is his version of a wild man mask with deeply attenuated carving outlining the mouth and eyes. Painted in traditional colors of black and red.
    RECORD COMPLETENESS
    Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.