OR MUSEUMS AND ART IN OAXACA
ALERT: FOR ALL ART LOVERS THIS IS ESSENTIALLY A PICTURE POST. IT REPRESENTS THE DIVERSE CERAMIC AND STONE ART ACROSS THE WHOLE PRE HISPANIC SPECTRUM. THIS WILL GIVE YOU AN IDEA BEFORE I POST THE MEXICO CITY ANTHROPOLOGICAL MUSEUMS WONDERS!
Rufino Tamayo Mexican Pre Hispanic Art Museum
The pink room with Olmec art 1800 BCE to 400 BCE. (The people of the land of rubber)
These brightly coloured backgrounds I thought would be a distraction, however they sort of worked and the courtyarded building was a treat in itself. First have some Olmec gear. These are the people who influenced the whole of Mesoamerica and are known as the “mother culture” They are the ones responsible for the massive volcanic stone heads in this part of Mexico. They are also credited with the study of astronomy and developing mathematics and a first writing system. Oh and they invented popcorn!!!
The mysterious fat babies.
The preoccupation of Olmec peoples with child-rearing and the mythological connections between the life cycles of infants and agriculture transcend time and space. I found wonder at these small ceramic chubby cherubs. There is an uncertainty in the art world as to their exact meaning. Usually genderless, and seated with splayed legs and hands on thighs, these figures have the attitude and bearing of human babies, even wearing headdresses and with painted body markings. Who exactly are these babies? Several possibilities exist. These could be portraits of elite babies, infantilized portraits of actual individuals, idealized portraits of deities or mythological characters. They could be memorials to infants that left this world too early, or representative emblems of whole lineages. Regardless of the function or intent of the artists, they made the hollow sculptures very lifelike. In some cases the ceramic effigies may have served as substitutes for actual infants in a sacrificial or dedicatory ritual, as there is compelling evidence of Olmec infant sacrifice and ceremonial burials. These babies are to be found in many of the museums in Mexico so look out for them.
Reading up about this I found a reference from “Aztec and Maya” about their heavens.
‘AFTER DEATH. From his place at the summit of the thirteen Aztec heavens the primeval being Ometeotl, lord of duality, sent forth the souls of human babies about to be born. Ometeotl lived in his dual forms as Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl in the twelfth and thirteenth layers of heaven, in a place called Omeyocan. Here also lived the souls of babies who had died before their time and without cause, and those who had died inexplicably in their sleep. They expected a new life in a world freshly made after the cataclysmic end of the fifth sun or world age in a great earthquake. In Omeyocan a fork of the cosmic tree provided sweet milk for the nourishment these babies’ souls and the spirits newly made by Ometeotl.’
So the dead baby theme seems to have continued beyond the Olmec and through the ages to the Mayan and Aztec.
More bizarre Sculptures from 1800 BCE TO 400 BCE.
The blue room and Classical period (250–900 CE) of the Maya and Aztecs, their ‘Golden Age’.
The progression into the next gallery shows new stylised work as the development of religion and groups changed across Mesoamerica. The unfired head above has miraculously survived although uncooked. I fell in love with this sulky looking face of some young girl (?) who was clearly loved all those centuries ago. What happened in her life one can only wonder.
The change from one gallery to the other isn’t easily defined as all these cultures bled into each other which makes it very difficult to separate. The Mayans for example were around at the same time nearly as the Olmecs but hadn’t conglomerated and reached a stylistic zenith. I loved the more simple art work which felt very origional, the highly flambuoyant gods had a more mass produced feel, indeed the main body normally was mould pressed with shapes attached with slip one presumes. The blue galleries tallied with thr Mayan blue pigment used in this period, the recipe of which is now lost.
The marked difference between the playful and exuberant ceramic figures and the stylised stone ones emphasises the separate uses of them. I far preferred the stone figures so simply carved but so powerful, grouped together they were an imposing and sinister bunch of thugs who were coming after you. With smooth, tactile surfaces you wanted to hold and stroke them. The flat, angular, abstract style, typical of Teotihuacan art, is in marked contrast to the curvilinear style of Olmec art.
The orange and green rooms Post Classic (900–1521 CE),
Look at the oriental looking chap below smiling away, he’s part of a style called the ‘sonrientes’ or the ‘smilers’. Classic Veracruz ceramics as “powerful and expressive, endowed with a charm and sensibility unprecedented in other, more formal cultures.”
‘Another smiling figure from the Remojadas region is a hollow ceramic sculpture representing an individual celebrating with music and dance. This bare-chested figure with open mouth and filed teeth stands energetically with legs spread and arms lifted as if caught in mid-motion. He wears a woven cap with geometric patterns, an elaborate skirt, circular earrings, a beaded necklace, and a bracelet. His face and body contain patterns evocative of body paint, including slight lines emanating from his lower eyelids and onto his cheeks. This sculpture evokes a festive dance or ritual accompanied by the rhythmic reverberation of the hand-held rattle and celebratory sound escaping from the figure’s open mouth.’ Rufino Tamayo Mexican Pre Hispanic Art Museum
This one exhibition brought home the incredible strength, and diversity of art through the ages of the indiginous Mesoamericans. If you have a chance to visit this I would thoroughly recommend it. It encapsulates all the human endeavour and the wonderful knowledge and imagination of these amazing peoples. Get under their skin, and you’ll see a different account of them from the usual terribly slanted history that we are normally force fed and believe without ever questioning it.
One thing I’m sure of is the ancient ancestors of Modern Mesoamericans used to love a party as much as their present day counterparts. All the way through my trip it was evident in all the art, fat babies and ball games included. Just look at the costumes and feathers, the huge pantheon of exotic gods. Check out their daily rituals with food and drink, and their normal hopes and fears, their love and humour, their science and philosophy, the massive contribution to human knowledge, and all through their amazing art.