Yup'ik people have long maintained an annual cycle of ceremonies and festivals, passing Arctic nights in storytelling, singing, and dramatic masked performances. The purpose of these events is to enlist spiritual aid for survival in the harsh climate. They also build community feeling and a sense of cooperation. Many songs and dances are about success in hunting, an important concern.
Shamans organize ceremonial dances and the carving of dance masks, which are made by men. Past Yup'ik artists had only a few materials, like driftwood, bone, fur, and feathers, but they used them skillfully, developing the spare, expressive style seen in this work. This mask, with its delicately carved features, probably represents a woman.