I came across a write-up of Cihuatl, Mujer, Woman in the Essentials section of City Weekly [Feb. 23]. I was excited to have my art featured in the paper. However, as I began to read the piece, my excitement quickly turned to disappointment.
I was bothered at how the article inaccurately represented Aztec culture and history. I feel that the essence of the exhibit was completely missed. My goal as one of the contributing artists was to affirm the presence, strength and dignity of women and the many varied stories, traditions and ways of knowing that continue to exist today.
The article states that “Aztec people [lived] in central Mexico until they were wiped out by Cortez.” The exhibit itself is a testament that we are here, alive and thriving. In Mexico and the United States, there are still many descendants of the Aztecs, Mayans and countless other indigenous tribes; and Nahuatl, forms of Uto-Aztecan languages, and various Mayan dialects are still spoken and taught, even here in the United States.
The article went on to talk about the painting “Alma” and stated that it “referenc[ed] the Aztec practice of human sacrifice.” Aside from being a highly contested and unproven claim, it alludes to the idea that Aztecs were uneducated and ignores that they made key historical contributions in mathematics, astronomy and medicine.
I realized that the source of the misunderstanding may have stemmed from lack of communication with the artist, or not reading the material provided with the press release and at the exhibit. The handout at the exhibit informs the viewer that the painting features a burning codex to remind us of the recurring attempts to eliminate our stories and our means of passing on ancestral knowledge. The true focal points lie in the survival and strength demonstrated by the raised arm with a human heart in hand. It is a reminder that continually reaffirming our existence and our stories is important and necessary; that our alma (soul) and our love for our knowledge, our culture and our humanity cannot be burned or erased.
Attempts to eliminate our stories can occur many ways. Arizona recently banned ethnic-studies programs, and, in Tucson, much of our literature has been banned from its classrooms. They are, in effect, trying to erase history. Erasing or misrepresenting history is dangerous, but it is more dangerous when we internalize and begin to believe fallacies and ideas that our cultures no longer exist or that our ancestors were uneducated. It only leads to further division and misunderstanding.
Despite all this, I am grateful that the article was written. It points to the cultural misunderstandings that are still present and very real in our society. I hope that no matter how it is interpreted, it can encourage people to visit the exhibit. My hope is that through the art, we can advance the conversations, knowledge and understanding of our cultures, making it evident that our people still thrive, and that they extend throughout the Americas.
Salt Lake City