Buhmann on Art: Central America’s past revealed

Each of these human form figures represents a specific culture from one of the seven geographic regions examined in “Cerámica de los Ancestros.” The case greets visitors at the exhibition’s entrance. Photo by Joshua Stevens, courtesy MAI.

Each of these human form figures represents a specific culture from one of the seven geographic regions examined in “Cerámica de los Ancestros.” The case greets visitors at the exhibition’s entrance. Photo by Joshua Stevens, courtesy MAI.

 

BY STEPHANIE BUHMANN | This bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibition illuminates Central America’s diverse and dynamic ancestral heritage and aims to shed light onto some of its vibrant civilizations. The ceramics, combined with recent archaeological discoveries, aid in telling the stories of these dynamic cultures, each with unique, sophisticated ways of life, value systems, achievements and art.

Ceramic stamps used by various indigenous groups of Central America, including the Maya, to decorate cloth, paper, or the human body, dating from 300 B.C.–1500 A.D. Tubular stamps (bottom right) were rolled across skin or fabric to create continuous designs. Photo by Joshua Stevens, courtesy MAI.

Ceramic stamps used by various indigenous groups of Central America, including the Maya, to decorate cloth, paper, or the human body, dating from 300 B.C.–1500 A.D. Tubular stamps (bottom right) were rolled across skin or fabric to create continuous designs. Photo by Joshua Stevens, courtesy MAI.

Pre-Classic period Maya human-monkey figure, AD 200–300. Villa de Zaragoza, Chimaltenango Department, Guatemala. Pottery. Purchased for MAI by staff member Marshall H. Saville, 1920 (9/8479). Photo by Ernest Amoroso, courtesy MAI.

Pre-Classic period Maya human-monkey figure, 200–300 A.D. Villa de Zaragoza, Chimaltenango Department, Guatemala. Pottery. Photo by Ernest Amoroso, courtesy MAI.

More specifically, “Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed” examines seven regions representing distinct Central American cultural areas that are today part of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Spanning the period from 1000 BC to the present, the ceramics featured, were selected from the museum’s own collection and are augmented with significant examples of work in gold, jade, shell and stone.

This extraordinary show succeeds in reflecting on the complexity and dynamic qualities of the Central American civilizations that were connected to peoples in South America, Mesoamerica and the Caribbean through social and trade networks sharing knowledge, technology and artworks.

Free. Through January, 2017. At the National Museum of the American Indian’s George Gustav Heye Center (1 Bowling Green, at Broadway & State St.). Open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. (open Thurs. until 8 p.m.). Call 212-514-3700 or visit nmai.si.edu.

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