Live performance art draws inspiration from traditional Makah masks

June 7, 2017
Burke Museum

Artists Aaron Parker and Chris Cunningham premiered their performance art piece, ƛ’ix̌aq: Animal Skin, at the Burke’s NiteLife event Maker p(ART)y on May 19. Parker, a Makah painter and animator, and Cunningham, a Seattle musician and videographer, used their respective crafts to explore the transformations that occur during traditional Makah masking and unmasking ceremonies. 

During the performance, Parker painted live to the sounds of Cunningham’s improvised soundscape while a short film directed by Cunningham and art-directed and starring Parker played in the background.

"How can we take down barriers and encourage interaction in a museum setting?  How can ancient visual tradition be pressed in new directions while maintaining its cultural integrity?  Our answer to these questions became the Animal Skin project." said Aaron Parker.

Chris Cunningham crafts the live soundscape.

Chris Cunningham crafts the live soundscape.

Photo: Andrew Waits 

Parker and Cunningham’s film was projected throughout the performance.

Parker and Cunningham’s film was projected throughout the performance.

Photo: Andrew Waits

Aaron Parker paints during the live performance.

Aaron Parker paints during the live performance.

Photo: Andrew Waits 

“This project is about preservation of traditional tribal culture by maintaining its relevance in the contemporary art realm,” said Parker.

Parker and Cunningham met years ago as students in a Pacific Northwest anthropology and art course, and have been looking for a way to collaborate since. The Burke provided the platform they were looking for to launch what they hope is the first of many performances. It’s ethnology collection also served as a source of inspiration for the piece. Even though Parker lives four hours from Seattle in Neah Bay, he was able to access images of Makah masks in the Burke’s online ethnology collection.

"While I am personally rather familiar with design elements from my culture, it was very helpful for me to flip through the digital collection before starting work on the art for our project, taking in diversity of forms and looking specifically at a range of limitations to work within while designing our masks." said Parker. 

Aaron Parker’s full painting, Superstition, 8'x4', acrylic on wood, 2017

Photo: Andrew Waits

Come see Parker’s painting 'Superstition' from ƛ’ix̌aq: Animal Skin on display in the Burke lobby through Thursday, June 15. 

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