Through art, music, dance, and ritual offerings of food, drink, incense, and even human blood, the people of Mesoamerica materialized gods in their daily lives. Pre-Columbian civilizations in Mexico and Central America used the human body as a prism for understanding and depicting the supernatural. Comprised of 33 objects from five Mesoamerican civilizations—Maya, Teotihuacán, Nayarit, Zapotec, and Aztec—The Seeds of Divinity explores the spiritual and the sacred, plumbing the mutable line between humans, gods, and animals. The exhibition is on view at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) from January 19 through August 26, 2018.
The Seeds of Divinity is designed to transport you to another time and culture, where bodies are transformed into actual divine beings, and humans have multiple souls including that of an animal. The objects range from figurines that functioned as ceremonial rattles or whistles to urns used in bloodletting ceremonies. A tenon, or architectural projection, depicts a human head emerging from the jaws of a divine earth monster. The Maya believed that their deceased heroes could return from the underworld in this way to deliver messages to the living. The passage into death and beyond is an important moment in the transformation of humans into divine beings, and many of the works in the exhibition come from mortuary contexts. Ceramic incense burners and baked clay urns provide insight into communication between the earthly and supernatural realms.
The Seeds of Divinity is curated by Antonia Foias, chair of the Department of Anthropology & Sociology and professor of anthropology with exhibition design by David Gürçay-Morris, associate professor of theatre. This past fall students in Anthropology 281 collaborated on the interpretation and display of the objects and created audio tours that bring the objects to life.
“For me as an archaeologist, objects are windows into the heart and mind of ancient people, and this exhibit is the product of the journey that my students and I took last fall, researching these artifacts so that we can tell the story of each in a way that brings them back to life,” says Curator and Professor of Anthropology Antonia Foias.
The exhibition brings together objects from WCMA’s collection with loans from the Yale University Art Gallery and the Worcester Art Museum.
“By partnering with Antonia and her students, WCMA was able to produce new interpretations of these incredible objects that blend the methodologies of Anthropology and Art History,” says WCMA Interim Director Lisa Dorin. “During the semester leading up to the exhibition, we had unprecedented access to Worcester’s rich collections here onsite for study. The original research that Williams students produced in their course will travel back with the objects, providing new contextual background for Worcester audiences. It was also thrilling to collaborate with David on the exquisite design, which provides a dramatic, immersive experience for WCMA visitors.”
Thursday, Feb 15, 5 pm
Raise a glass to our spring exhibitions: The Seeds of Divinity, Rawr!, Sam Gilliam In Dialogue, and Object Lab.
The Axis Mundi
Tuesday, March 6, 4 pm
Professor of Anthropology Antonia Foias and students discuss the meaning of the Axis Mundi—the center of the universe—and its significance for pre-Columbian civilizations.