The Branch and the Scorpion: Maya Textiles from Guatemala's Pacific Coast
Focus Gallery II
Dallas Museum of Art
Branch and Scorpion: Maya Textiles from Guatemala's Pacific Coast features twenty-five vibrant indigenous textiles that exemplify a little-known tradition of Maya weaving. The exhibition has been organized as a modern Maya complement to the Dallas Museum of Art's special exhibition Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship, on view through May 7. The weaving communities of Guatemala's Pacific coast lie in the southern foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains - the other side of the mountains from towns where the country's best-known Maya textiles have been woven. The hot, humid climate of the coast influenced the kinds of textiles that were made and used. Square and rectangular cloths - hand-woven on the backstrap loom that Maya weavers have used for centuries - are the hallmark of this region's textile tradition. Women wear a square cloth draped over a shoulder or folded and placed on the head. The textile offers a bit of shade from the sun, but it is ready for use as a bundle cloth to wrap purchases at the market or as a fan against the heat. Today men rarely use hand-woven textiles, but in fiesta parades young men wear a square cloth tied at the neck and hanging down the back, as their great-grandfathers once did. Lace or trim around the edges indicates that the square served as a cape-like garment for the figure of a saint, a gift to the cofradía, or religious brotherhood, which housed the image. Other textiles also served a cofradía function, as altar cloths or accessories for the litter on which the figure of the saint was carried in processions. Square cloths with fringe across the ends usually covered baskets of tortillas or other food. Two designs are dominant in coastal textiles: chevrons that flank a central stripe, which local weavers call "la rama," or branch, and a squiggly shape they identify as "el alacrán," or scorpion. Both designs seem to suggest the region's flora and fauna - the branch its lush vegetation, the scorpion nature's potential harshness. A more precise meaning is elusive, for many of the textiles shown here represent types that are no longer woven. These examples survive as a tribute to a distinctive style among Guatemala's 20th-century Maya textile traditions. The textiles in the exhibition were selected by Carol Robbins, The Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Curator of the Arts of the Americas and the Pacific, and come from the collections of Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher and Carolyn C. and Dan Williams at the Dallas Museum of Art. With fifty textiles attributed to the Pacific coast, the Dallas Museum of Art has one of the most significant representations of textiles from that geographic area. Most of the examples in Branch and Scorpion were woven in the communities of San Sebastián in the department of Retaluleu and Santo Domingo Suchitepéquez and Samayac in the department of Suchitepéquez, during the period 1900 to 1950.
The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.