21 August 2012

Eskimo Fashion Party

Let us give credit where credit is due... Inuits invented sunglasses. The Eskimo hunter designed these ancestral wearables for survival in the harsh arctic climate.  The high latitude of their habitats left the sun low on the horizon through much of the year, and the resulting glare was compounded by the highly reflective snow or water that covered the area.

Without protection, a hunters eyes were left vulnerable to a painful and often serious condition known as snow blindness, similar to a sunburn. Ivory or wood snow goggles alleviated this effect by allowing the wearer to peer through narrow openings, while shading him from the excessive glare.

Throughout history, Eskimo cultures have believed that all things in the physical world are imbued with a living spirit, or inua. In order to gain favor with the inua of his prey, a hunter would observe numerous taboos, and strive to use only the most beautiful, finely prepared hunting gear.

In this carved ivory pair of snow goggles by the Punuk Eskimos of Alaska, an ingenious utilitarian object is elevated to the level of a work of fine art.  This piece captures two major forces in the Punuk Eskimo conception of the world. It is both a spiritual and a technical tour-de-force, executed in honor of the animals that offered their lives and allowed for the continued survival of the Eskimo people.  

Text Courtesy of Christie's.