B2 Fine Art Gallery’s “1001 Faces Exhibition” celebrates masks from around the world. There are masks from Asia, Europe, Africa and North America. Best represented are those of Africa. The gallery has a collection of “archival” masks from African cultures such as the Songye, the Benin of Nigeria, the Bobo of Burkina Faso, the Dogan tribe, the Lega tribe and more. There is a pair of rustic Zulu shields as well as figurines in wood and bronze.
Alongside these antique masks are native-inspired pieces made by local artists. Yup’ik Eskimo artist Terresa White (who lives in Portland, Oregon) uses ceramics, paint and feathers to create masks of mystical beings caught in the midst of transformation between human and bird: an owl or a loon, for example.
Mention needs to be made of Ric Hall’s “The Alchemist,” an amazing and intricate mask made entirely of driftwood sticks. With its sharp nose and pointy chin, it looks like a creature from a dark fairy tale.
Somewhat puzzling is the work of Peruvian-born wood carver Enrique Leon. A few of his pieces are based on South American models, but the majority of his carvings are copies of northwest native examples. They feel somehow inauthentic despite the fact that he has trained with local native carvers.
Skokomish carver John Edward Smith’s wolf masks are capped with cascades of cedar-bark hair. There is also a pair of canoe paddles made by John Edward Smith in collaboration with Maori carver Takirirangi Smith.
Takirirangi Smith will have more contributions to the show that are coming later this month. In 2007 he worked with local native artists, including John Edward Smith, in carving a canoe at Evergreen State College’s Longhouse Education and Cultural Center in Olympia.
Because B2 Gallery has multiple rooms and various passageways, it is difficult to tell what is part of the current exhibit and what is there as part of the permanent collection. Are Marzil Davis’ ceramic, African-American figurines part of the exhibit? Along the north wall is a row of large, abstract canvases that do not seem unrelated to the masks, yet distract attention from them. It is easy for a visitor to become disoriented with the maze-like layout of the space and the ambiguity as to what’s what.
That being said, B2 Fine Art Gallery is playing a vital role in Tacoma as one of the last few non-museum spaces devoted to putting together important exhibits. The Gallery’s recent show of the Northwest Mystics, for example, is nothing short of a coup.
“1001 Faces” runs through April 19. For further information visit http://www.B2FineArts.com.
March 22 & 23 The Healing Power of the Mask: A 6-hour, 2-day workshop and performance to explore what masks have to say.
March 23 Some Words, Some Masks: A night of poetry and role-playing around the “Healing Power of the Masks.” A night in which spectators can jump onto the stage, wear and mask and transform into another person for one night.