This is why I Love Tribal Art: A “Star Gazer” from Alaska

From time to time, I will post examples of tribal art from different cultures which I think are artistically and cultural compelling. This is the fourth installment in the series.

A “star gazer” female figure, Alaska, Punuk or Thule culture, 600 – 1200 AD. Walrus tusk. Height: 10.7 cm. Private collection.

The inuit of Alaska has an art tradition that honors the animals they depend on by carving effigies of them in walrus ivory and whale bones. Also carved were human figures, frequently female, such as this one. The purpose of these enigmatic figures is unclear, although some scholars believe they were used as protective amulets or ceremonial objects.

The present figure has great presence despite being only 10.7 cm tall. Her face is expressive even though her eyes and mouth are rendered with just a few incisions of the ivory. The figure’s posture is the standout feature. She is depicted looking up, back bent slightly backwards and hands held to the rear in a relaxed position, as if she is star gazing or perhaps seeking divination from the heavens.

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