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The Actor and the Mask

Eric Schweig presenting one of his adoption masks at the 1999 Great Mohican Gathering  © SusanH1042 (Photographer) June 1999

I think it is particularly interesting that Eric Schweig, an actor, is also involved in the creation of masks. Since the dawn of time, the mask is a strange and remarkable object of metamorphosis, both related to shamanism and acting. Whether in ancient rituals or theatrical catharsis, the mask, in its strange fixity of expression, is a medium of an unexpected truth dramatically revealed. It is the perfect vehicle for identity’s alteration.

As an Inuit child adopted by a Caucasian family, Eric Schweig has been in search of his identity for a long time. In a white family, he was confronted very early to his difference. Therefore, I am not surprised that he later sought his inner landmarks in the incarnation of different characters in movies, and in the creation of masks.

Yup’ik mask ceremonial, Nunivak 1929

Eric Schweig masks show the influence of traditional Inuit Spirit Masks, with an exuberant aesthetic, great audacity and beauty. They are all absolutely fascinating. Made of carved wood or bone, sometimes painted and assembled, these Inuit masks, often decorated with feathers or fur, tells a particular story, a transcendental journey unique and specific. With their expressive originality, these masks reflect the idea of ​​perpetual transformation, a concept central to Inuit cosmology.

Left: Eric Schweig Spirit Mask / Right: Alaska Sugpiaq mask, 19th century.

Left: Eric Schweig Spirit Mask / Right: Alaska Sugpiaq mask, 19th century.

In the light of all statements made by Eric Schweig during his career, I also observe the expression of a great emotional pain in some of his masks called «Adoption masks» or «Inuit Man Screaming » which are inspired by Indonesian masks. I also see in these particular works a clear affiliation with the renowned painting by Edvard Munch “The Scream”.

Left: “The Scream” by Edvard Munch / Right: “Inuit Man Screaming” mask by Eric Schweig.

In the painting of Edvard Munch and some «adoption masks» made by Eric Schweig, the opposition of warm colours (red, orange) and cold colours (blue or black) can be highly symbolic. Warm colours evoke fire, blood and life, cold colours symbolize death, emptiness and anguish. In both works, the curves are strongly drawn around the mouth as a network of energy. The scream distorts the outlines of each artwork and becomes almost audible to the viewer. The two artworks show the tremendous force of an inner turmoil, like the physical embodiment of an existential crisis.

Left: Eric Schweig around 20 / Right: Inuit Mask, Point Hope Alaska, early 19th century © Studio R. Asselberghs and Frédéric Dehaen Brussels.

It seems also interesting to note that this actor and creator of masks was first noticed for his unique beautiful face, showing features like if they have been cut with a knife. And the fierce fixity of Eric Schweig expression in his early films was not without causing the same fascination than a mask. Later, the actor seems to have felt more comfortable to play with different expressions, but each time, the power of his facial architecture has always made me think of Inuit masks. The actor and the mask become united…

Left: Eric Schweig in Arbor Live / Right: Inuit Mask, Yukon, 19th century.

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