Carving Cultural Strength
Yupik artist Moses Wassilie keeps culture alive through art
ANCHORAGE - The sounds of a mallet fill Moses Wassilie's East Anchorage home.
“The mask-making and drumming and dancing is all a part of our culture,” said Wassilie, snuggling his granddaughter.
Wassilie, a Yupik Alaskan, takes cultural preservation seriously.
He is an artist who paints and carves, but what he creates is much more than wall art.
“Some people, they say you take out the personality and then you can look straight at a person's eye,” said Wassilie, holding what he considers a masculine mask in front of his face. “Whereas if you're not wearing it, you're more timid and not so brave.”
With a few simple tools, he tells stories so future generations can find their inner strength.
“This has to do with three women,” he said, holding up framed portrait of a woman with long black hair, in front of a vibrant sunset. “The painting in the background is innocent, and what I did was put the mask on to kind of give her courage to speak out and that's what a lot of our women are doing.”
He means women like he hopes his five year old granddaughter Ariana will become. “What does it look like?” Wassilie asked his granddaughter, while holding the drawing of a future mask. “Nothing,” Ariana responded.
Although she may not understand the art today, Wassilie hopes she will be strong like the women behind the masks and like his mother.
“I started making masks after she passed on, and this is the third one. I have already made two of them, but this one is probably the biggest one and I am only going to make three.”
He speaks to his mother's spirit, looking for inspiration and guidance.
“As part of our period of mourning or remembrance, every time I work on it I am thinking of my mother.”
“In terms of preserving our culture, as long as I keep doing this, I am preserving that part of my culture.”