Dzunukwa Transformation Mask, c. 2000
by Tsungani (Fearon Smith), Cherokee & Adopted Kwakwaka'wakw
red cedar, bear fur, pigment, cord
17" high x 21" wide x 11" deep
Dzunukwa is the Kwakwaka'wakw name for the Wild Woman of the Woods. She is a giant, spiritually powerful spirit who can resurrect the dead and manifest lightning with her supernaturally loud voice. Dzunukwa guards and protects her children, who are all creatures and spirits of the forest. Human children who wander are likely to be captured by her and thrown into a basket on her back. She is almost always depicted with an accentuated mouth in an oval shape to represent her whispers in the wind that attract humans to the woods.
As well, Dzunukwa is considered a hierarchy figure, and if she comes to dance at your ceremony, it is a great honor. In this depiction, Dzunukwa is transforming into a Chief. The twisted band above the forehead is a way to denote this is a portrait mask meant to represent an ancestor of high status and rank in the community.
Tsungani (Fearon Smith Jr.) is the younger brother of renowned carver Lelooska (1933-1996) and jeweler Patty Fawn. When Lelooska passed away in 1996, Tsungani became clan chief of the Wiummasgum Clan of the House of Lelooska and the House of Sewide. The name Gixken meaning "Chief of Chiefs" was also passed to him.
Growing up in a family already deeply involved in native american arts, it was natural for him to fall in step with the rest of the family and become an artist. Though a skilled artist in all mediums of Northwest Coast Indian art, Tsungani chooses to devote most of his time to woodcarving. He is best known for his ceremonial masks, rattles, bentwood boxes and chests done in both traditional and contemporary styles. He particularly enjoys the creation of shaman figures and masks based on historical pieces.
Tsungani was one of the main dancers in the family's educational programs. He was an expert at handling and dancing the large, articulated masks, a skill much respected by the old people. At traditional potlatches, he was often called upon to perform with the masks.
As Clan Chief, Tsungani devotes his time to continuing the legacy of the Lelooska family. He is now the storyteller and narrator in the family educational presentations. Retired from dancing, he continues to share his vast knowledge and skills with the next generation. As a woodcarver he continues to work in the traditional styles creating masks, totem poles, bowls and rattles.