Benjamin Charles

Author: Benjamin Charles
Credits: Benjamin Charles

Over the course of several years in watching Yup'ik dancing and hearing stories of those long gone, I began to understand how important it has become to be immersed in one's own culture. In 2016, I decided to open a business, Alaska Native Arts Online. I read and researched every bit of knowledge I could to understand the meaning of Yup'ik masks. Through the Best in the West competition, it was possible to share with the world Yup'ik art and why masks are made.

I have carved 18 masks, most of which have been sold or gifted to others. Most notably my mask, Amirliq'ella Yua, or Cloudy Sky Spirit, was one of 18 pieces selected for the 2017 State of Alaska Contemporary Art Bank Call for Art. However, all my pieces have greater meaning than just a carved piece of wood. I have since started developing stories to accompany the masks. Some have concepts from developed by myself and the remaining have traditional stories tied to their background.

At times, when I am carving in my home studio, I look up at a portrait of my dad. It feels like he is watching me, guiding my hand, teaching me. I smile and continue on, chipping away. When the mask is complete, I tell myself I want to be a person to pass this on to others. So they can do the same one day, keep our culture, the Yup'ik culture, alive.