The Dallas Museum of Art will present Branch and Scorpion: Maya Textiles from Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, featuring 25 vibrant indigenous textiles that exemplify a little-known tradition of Maya weaving, Feb. 26 through June 4. 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 Feb. 12 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 have been 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 50 textiles attributed to the Pacific coast, the DMA 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.
Branch and Scorpion is presented in conjunction with Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship, a special exhibition that features approximately 150 objects, many being shown for the first time in the United States. Through works of art made centuries ago—monumental sculpture in stone, polished jade figures and royal jewels, distinctive ceramic vessels, carved bone and shell—the exhibition opens a window on the past, to one of the world’s most intriguing ancient civilizations. Several objects in Sacred Maya Kingship were found on Guatemala’s Pacific coast, the geographic focus of the textile exhibition.
Cost of admission to Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship is $14 for adults, $12 for senior citizens and $10 for students with current school identification. Exhibition admission includes general admission to the Museum and an audio tour. DMA members and children under 12 are free and can purchase an audio tour for $4. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more; contact groupsales@DallasMuseumofArt.org or 214-922-1222. The cost of Branch and Scorpion is included in general admission.
About the Dallas Museum of Art
The 23,000 works of art in the Museum’s encyclopedic collections span 5,000 years of history and represent all media with renowned strengths in the arts of the ancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia and South Asia; European and American painting, sculpture and decorative arts; and American and international contemporary art.
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