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Wild Man Mask

Arts of the Americas

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
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Fred Nihda
    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.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    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
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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