This group of artworks consists of tourist-trade reproductions inspired by some famous, and some not-as-famous, works of ancient Precolumbian art, including works from the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Teotihuacano, Mixtec, and West Mexican cultures. The reproductions are generally made by artisans who are indigenous or are of Mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish) heritage, often directly descended from these Precolumbian cultures. While some simpler objects could be considered to be mere “tourist kitsch” and can be criticized as a poor appropriation of these cultures, the more elaborate and accurate of these reproductions illustrate the knowledge, skill, and talents of emerging indigenous artists who earn a living from their art. In any event, all versions of these objects have also done much to encourage interest in ancient cultures by both tourists and the indigenous peoples of Mexico, as well as helping to revive traditional styles and artforms.
This mask is directly inspired by the ceramic maskettes placed on the large, elaborate incensarios, or incense burners, produced by the Teotihuacano cultures of Classic period Central Mexico (ca. 250-900 CE). Incense burners were used in the rituals of many ancient Mesoamerican cultures, but Teotihuacano incensarios were specifically used in funerary rituals, and they were often also left in the grave of the deceased as an offering. The person depicted in this mask wears a large headdress and earspools, which indicates that he or she held considerable status. The stylized eyes and beak portrayed in the headdress represent an owl, a common motif that perhaps indicated a military rank or membership in a specific family. Researched by Leslie Dunaway
This sculpture is a reproduction of “dancing dog” effigy figurines found in the shaft tomb graves of the ancient West Mexican Colima cultures, dating to the late Formative period (200 BCE-200CE). Dogs served as an important religious symbol among Colima cultures, who engaged in the widely shared Mesoamerican belief that dogs were associated with the dog-like death god Xolotl, and that supernatural dogs guided the deceased into the afterlife. Accordingly, dog figures were often included in high-status graves. Researched by Leslie Dunaway
Chacmool is the name given to a style of Post-Classic (900-1521 CE) Mesoamerican stone sculptures that depict a soldier in a reclining pose, and the specific style of this reproduction closely resembles those found in the great Maya city of Chichen Itzá. Chacmool figures were ritual and sacrificial in nature; they are often found on the tops of pyramids, and many scholars believe that they represent captured prisoners of war who have been sacrificed by heart removal. These figures have indented areas on their abdomens that may represent a mirror or a vessel, and this indented area may have held the heart or other body parts of the actual human sacrifice victims. This figure wears a pectoral ornament that represents a stylized butterfly, a symbolic ornament indicating that he was a high-status soldier; the “bracelets” on his wrists, however, are likely depictions of the ropes used to bind the prisoner. Researched by Leslie Dunaway
This plastic keychain tag is a quite faithful reproduction in the style of relief sculpture found at the Classic period (250-900 CE) Maya city of Palenque. The figure makes the gesture of placing his left hand on his right shoulder, with the elbow pointed forward. This is a common pose in Palenque art, and it is interpreted by many scholars as a gesture of submissiveness by a soldier to those of higher rank or as a symbol of defeat, particularly in the case of a captured soldier. This figure still wears noble regalia of beaded cuff bracelets, a necklace, and earspools. While his hair is still tied into an elaborate headdress, part of it appears to have come loose and fallen down his back, and loosened hair also sometimes indicates defeat. These features suggest that this image may depict a high-status noble who has just been captured by his enemies, but before he has been stripped of his finery. Researched by Leslie Dunaway
The design on this pin and on this embossed mug takes its inspiration directly from one of the most famous large-scale stone sculptures of Mesoamerica: the Stone of the Five Suns, often known popularly as the “Calendar Stone,” made by the Post-Classic (900-1521 CE) cultures known as the Aztec. This is not a functioning calendar, however, but a highly symbolic image. At the center is a depiction of Tonatiuh, the Aztec sun god of the daytime sky, and around him are pictographs symbolizing the four eras, or “suns,” that existed before the current era: Four Jaguar, which ended when jaguars killed the race of giants inhabiting the world at the time; Four Wind, which ended in a hurricane; Four Rain, which ended in volcanic eruptions (a fiery “rain”); and Four Water, which ended with a great flood. The fifth and current era, Four Earthquake, suggests that the current era’s demise will be a great earthquake. Arranged around these symbols are pictographs for the Aztec days of the month, which is encircled by five-point hieroglyphs symbolizing turquoise or preciousness, followed by a ring of stylized sunrays. The outermost circle is the depiction of two supernatural fire serpents whose faces meet at the bottom. As a whole, the Stone of the Five Suns is believed to celebrate both the creation of the world as well as the ultimate destruction of each era. Researched by Leslie Dunaway and Macaylah Gant Hodge
These earrings are good reproductions of traditional metalwork masks depicting the god known as Xipe Totec by the Aztec and Mixtec cultures of the Mesoamerican Postclassic period (900-1521 CE). Xipe Totec was the god of springtime and represented vegetation and the fertility of the earth; also known as the Red Tezcatlipoca, he is linked with the East, where the new sun rises. In addition, Xipe Totec was the patron god of Mixtec metal artists, as casting metals involved splitting open the mold, much like seeds split open in the spring.
Spring rituals held in honor of Xipe Totec are among the most grisly in Mesoamerica. Prisoners of war were shot with arrows and allowed to bleed to death, because it was believed that the blood nourished Xipet Totec and thus began the agricultural season. After the prisoners were dead, priests flayed the prisoners’ bodies and wore their skins in homage to Xipe Totec, who was also known as “our lord the flayed one;” the metalwork masks represent the god wearing a flayed skin. After the month-long ritual, the priests removed the skins, symbolizing the earth shedding its old, dead vegetation and emerging green and new. Researched by Macaylah Gant Hodge
This small reproduction is based on stone figural axes of the Preclassic/Formative period (1500 BCE-250 CE) made by the Gulf Coast Olmec culture. While the image has been simplified, and while the reproduction is made predominantly of glass and metallic paint rather than carved of greenish stone, it is still identifiable. The figure has flame-shaped eyebrows, a squished, snout-like nose, and an upturned upper lip; these features appear to identify the image as an Olmec supernatural being that is sometimes referred to as “God I,” a supernatural believed to be associated with earth, rain, water, and agricultural fertility, and possibly also associated with Olmec royalty. Researched by Macaylah Gant Hodge
This small ceramic mask is a fairly accurate reproduction of a life-size stone mask made by artisans in the Classic period (250-900 CE) city of Teotihuacan. Like Teotihuacano stone masks, this reproduction has a wide forehead and idealized features, and it uses multicolored glazes to illustrate how these masks were often decorated with mosaics of jade, serpentine, onyx, turquoise, amazonite, obsidian, and/or shell. Such masks are believed to be luxury versions of funerary masks that were attached to mummy bundles. As seen on this tiny reproduction, the original mask on which this was based also had a hieroglyph on its forehead that represents flowing water. This hieroglyph most likely refers to calendar day hieroglyph Atl, meaning “water,” a day in the Mesoamerican month, and it likely represents the deceased person’s birthday. Researched by Macaylah Gant Hodge
This pendant bead is an accurate reproduction of the Classic period (250-900 CE) Maya hieroglyph known as Sotz, which is the depiction of the head of a leaf-nosed bat, and symbolizes the Maya bat god. Sotz also symbolizes the fourth month in the Maya version of the Mesoamerican calendar, an extremely accurate system that also served as the inspiration for the earliest writing in Mesoamerica. The Mesoamerican solar year calendar is composed of 18 months, each with 20 days, along with five or six “unnamed,” unlucky days. A person’s birthday, consisting of day and month names along with the day number within the Mesoamerican week, could also be used as a nickname. Researched by Macaylah Gant Hodge
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu