The power of mestizajeAs often happens, e-mails to my friends serve as drafts for the blog notes I've been putting off writing. Don Monkerud asked if we has seen the The Aztec Empire exhibit at the Guggenheim.
Yes, we have, and I 'd been meaning to put a commentary on my blog ever since we attended the symposium last Saturday. It's a very good show -- different from the one at the Royal Academy in London ( "Aztecs") organized by the same curators last year. That one was all about one great city, Tenochtitlan, and had enough space to reproduce some of the feel of the Great Plaza in its heyday, and a large-screen demonstrations of the stages of building of the Templo Mayor, the pyramid with the twin temples to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. But this show at the Met has a different emphasis and also has things that they didn't have in London. Here the focus is on the great mix and reciprocal influences of very different cultures in ancient Mexico: Mexica ("Aztec") v. Mixtec v. Zapotec, etc. They were all learning from one another, while working the borrowed ideas into their own traditions and using local (quite different) materials to create things that were quite novel. Some Mexican archaeologists are beginning to refer to pre-Hispanic forms as parts of an "international style" -- which is a sly reference to the usual meaning of that term, and a recognition that these peoples were in fact separate, and often hostile, nations. And despite their differences, they were aware of and keenly interested in each other's art and architecture.
While you're in New York, be sure to see the show at the Met on Andean textiles and silverwork of the colonial period. Fascinating syncretism of ancient Andean techniques and Spanish and even Chinese models (Spain's trade with China passed through Peru, and Andean craftsmen were quick to pick up on new ideas from anywhere -- amazing Andean versions of Chinese lions, which are themselves fabulous representations of European lions, since neither the Chinese nor the Andeans had ever seen a lion).
We also were blown away by the show China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 250-750 AD, on the same floor as the Andean show. Here you get to see how many different cultures within what is today China, and contacts with India, Iran and Europe, all produced much more dynamic forms, highly differentiated by region, than we usually imagine in China. All three shows in effect celebrate the creative energy that comes from the meetings of disparate cultures. I don't know the Chinese term, but in the Americas we call that "mestizaje."