Kwe-Ke (Xwixwi) Mask, 1996
by Donald Alfred, Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation
red cedar, pigment
1420 " high x 9" wide x 7" deep
The Xwixwi Dance originated from the Coast Salish Sxwayxwey. Even though the Coast Salish have many spirit dances and songs, the Sxwayxwey is their only masked dance. TThis dance came to the Kwakwaka'wakw believe the Xwixwi is the Red Snapper (or Red Cod) which is why this mask is depicted with large bulging eyes and a long tongue.
The dance is usually performed by four dancers and occurs in units of four, a magic - religious number. The dancers wear the masks and carry rattles of scallop shells. The dance is believed to shake the ground and be a means of bringing back the Hamatsa who is being initiated. The Hamatsa is a Kwakwaka'wakw Secret Society.
Kwakwaka’wakw artist Don Alfred was born in 1956, and was raised in Alert Bay, British Columbia. He is a member of the ‘Namgis (Alert Bay) First Nation and started carving in 1995; producing small wooden plaques, finely detailed and exquisitely painted.
Today he has moved on to larger pieces such as carved coffee tables with abalone inlay and masks. Don’s early influences include Beau Dick, Vincent Shaughnessy, Don Svanvik and Bruce Alfred, which is evident from his style of carving. His work is sold at the U’mista Cultural Centre and by private commission.
Don is very aware of his responsibilities to his culture and his art. His grandfather was the late Chief K̕di Udzistalis, Alvin Alfred. His grandmother was the inspiring Mrs. Ethel Alfred who lived to the age of 96 and was still a very strong and active cultural advisor and teacher. Don’s father Christopher Alfred is the Hereditary Chief of the Sisant̕ła’yi (Came from the Sun) Clan of the ‘Namgis.