As hard as it was trying to get a picture of Beau Dick at the opening for his solo show, looking back it was actually quite fitting. The man, like his art, is hard to pin down. The first thing I saw walking into the Fazakas Gallery was the Dzunukwa (Tsonokwa) Mask. The intensity was almost too much walking in off the street with the light just fading away over the tops of the buildings. I knew right away that this show was going to be powerful.
The show, Drama, Beau Dick – Solo Exhibition, was almost exclusively Kwakwaka’wakw masks, many inspired by the terrifying forest spirit most commonly referred to as Bukwus (Bukwis, Pookmis and Dzunukwa are three names that Dick uses). The figure shows up in a number of Northwest Coast legends and part of the purpose is to keep children safe from the dangers of the forest. The masks are all well executed and beautifully painted, but that’s not what stands out to the viewer. The draw of each piece is the uneasy sense that it holds within it not just wood and paint and cedar bark, but that it holds a spirit, placed there by the artist himself. As you stand in front of a mask, you try to make light conversation with your partner. You smile or laugh as you are expected to but all the while, you half wonder to yourself whether there is someone else in on the conversation; someone not interested in polite conversation, but in whispering things that make your pulse race faster and your heart dream bigger. Someone that is interested in drumming a beat that connects us back to where we all started. And as if to confirm our suspicions, Beau Dick and some of the members of his family group did just that.
Beau Dick danced nearly all the dances, each one using a different mask, including the Dzunukwa (Tsonokwa) Mask from the show. It was a sobering affair to say the least. Although I tried to take a few pictures, it wasn’t long before I felt something bigger going on than getting the best shot I could. As I listened to the sound of the singing and the beat of the drums, I felt both the weight of the great responsibility of being human and the lightness and joy of its gift. It was so much bigger than this moment and yet this moment was magnifying it for all of us there. Both before and after the dancing, Beau Dick had a relative speak on his behalf to thank LaTiesha Fazakas, gallery owner, and to take the first steps in welcoming her into their family. The final stages will be completed on April 15th when she receives her own Kwakwaka’wakw name.
It wasn’t long after the dancing ended that the energy in the room began to disperse. There was a little more laughing and a sense of camaraderie. The masks seemed to settle into themselves, leaving the crowd to their own devices as if to say:
“Do you hear that? They felt it, I know they did. They don’t really know it yet but it will make a difference in some way. Let’s just sit back and relax for a bit so they can figure it out. There will be someone else in soon enough. We can wait patiently here for them.”
So make sure you get over the the Fazakas Gallery before the show is over on November 7th and give the masks a chance to work their magic on you. You just never know what wild things they might inspire.