A day of cultura in Guatemala City May 2, 2010Posted by Tracy in : Guatemala , trackback
GUATEMALA CITY – My first day in the city, my couchsurfing host Cristina whisked me off to a day of culture, beginning with the beautiful Popol Vuh and Ixchel museums on the beautiful and modern Francisco Marroquin University and ending with a night of dance at the National Theater and lively conversation in an all-night diner.
I have assignments due and I had planned to stay home and write, saving the museums for Saturday, but Cristina set me straight. These museums, two of the best according to Cristina, are closed on Saturday. And when she offered to accompany me, how could I resist?
Currently on display at the university’s own gallery is El Lienzo de la Conquista, an unusual wall-sized canvas painting. Originally thought to depict a major conquest in central Mexico, the Dutch archaeologist Florine Asselbergs recently discovered that it actually chronicles the conquest of Guatemala – from the standpoint of the victors.
The Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés cleverly liberated several of the indigenous groups being oppressed by the powerful Mexica or Aztec ruling nation. Some decided to join Cortés in the bloody campaign against their former oppressors, and the Quahquechollan of Southern Mexico were among them. This painting, believed to be the first map of Guatemala, was created by a team of Quahquechollan artists.
The Popol Vuh was a stunner, with frighteningly realistic sculptures that seemed to look right out at us. The most exquisite seemed to arise in the Early Classic period, from 250-500 AD. Funerary urns like this one were adorned with an amzaing level of detail.
The Ixchel museum, dedicated to Guatemalan textiles, has a story that’s as interesting as its collection. It all started with the work of Carmen G. Pettersen, a Guatemalan painter of German ancestry who decided, at the age of 70, to document the traditional dress of the vastly diverse indigenous groups inhabiting the Guatemalan countryside.
She had observed a rapid change in the integrity of the work with the coming of modern culture and technology, and she wanted to capture the original designs, so she began a collection of watercolors that culminated in the 1976 coffee-table book The Maya of Guatemala. She donated the proceeds of the first edition to the university, which funded the founding of the museum, and a number of her original paintings can be found there, along with a brilliant collection of the textiles themselves.
The evening’s cultural activities – a history of Guatemalan dance, from ballet to folkloric – were just as spectacular. We met at the National Theater, where a memorable performance was capped off by a tribute to Guatemala’s leading dancers. Should anyone think that Guatemala lacks culture, take note: the National Theater was packed with upwards of 1,000 people, who sat quietly through technical difficulties and responded enthusiastically and frequently to every performance.