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Field Museum’s Aztec Exhibit Opens With a Stomp

Nov. 7, 2008 – Imagine seeing a life-size statue of a man with his liver hanging outside his body, numerous stones where bodies were sacrificed to the gods, and tools used for both ancient warfare and agriculture.

"There are a lot of really eye-catching pieces in this exhibit," said Gary Feinman, a curator of the Aztec World exhibit at the Field Museum

Eye-catching may be an understatement.   

The Aztec World exhibit opened at the Field Museum October 26, and the museum is pulling out all the stops to promote its significance.  The museum devoted an entire day to the ancient Aztec civilization, with a contemporary twist on an ancient culture. 

To get the whole opening day experience, visitors had to arrive early.  Feinman said he thinks it should take around an hour to get through the exhibit itself.  There are about 300 pieces in the Aztec World exhibit that have never been on display at the museum. 

Elizabeth Brumfiel, another curator of the exhibit and a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, has been working on the Aztec World project for three years. She wants people to know the significance of the artifacts on display.

"There was a lot of diversity in the Aztec society, and what we tried to do was select a wide range of pieces that show a wider range of diversity.  Earlier [Aztec] exhibits have been mainly focused on the artistic and aesthetic qualities and they showed a narrow range of concerns and a narrow point of view," said Brumfiel. 

Feinman agrees.  Both Feinman and Brumfiel worked together on the exhibit to create a holistic view of the Aztec world.  Everything from farm and merchant life to goddesses and rituals is covered in the exhibition.

"We have a good number of pieces that have never been on display in the United States.  Some have recently been excavated in Mexico, so they have never even been on display in Mexico," Feinman said.  "It's a great opportunity for people to get a more complete feel of the life and art of the Aztecs." 

After visitors viewed the exhibit, a dance was performed by the Mexican dance group Nahui Ollin (pronounced nah-wee oh-leen).  Nahui Ollin is a traditional dance group that was started in 1995 by Roberto Ferreyra.

After the dance, Ferreyra explained the significance of dancing at the Aztec exhibit. 

"The whole performance was an honor.  We were representing a little bit about the Aztec culture in the contemporary life. The goal and mission of our group is to preserve and continue traditions of the Aztec dance," said Ferreyra.

The Nahui Ollin dancers lit ceremonial Copal incense and gave thanks to the Great Spirit.  All the dancers were adorned in brightly-colored, traditional Aztec outfits and they had shells tied around their ankles.  Every stomp and jump was in sync, electrifying the museum with an ancient energy.

Ferreyra announced to the audience that their Aztec teachings and dances are for everyone to learn and see.  The group is not religious, he explained, but spiritual.  After the dancing was done, the group thanked the Great Spirit for the performance. 

"The Aztec World exhibit is beautiful.  We have to visit this not once, but two or three times to understand and enjoy every piece.  Piece by piece," said Ferreyra.

As the day continued, the events kept coming.  The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra played a series of Aztec and Mexican-American music at the museum.  The group assembled in the concert hall and played for a crowd full of parents, dancers and museum enthusiasts. 

Overall, the Field Museum made Aztec World more than an exhibit.  The event portrayed the lifestyle of the Aztecs through various art forms. 

People from all over are expected to attend the exhibit. 

"It's a great opportunity for people to get a more complete feel of the life and the art of the Aztecs," Feinman said.

"I think the Aztecs are fascinating and I can't imagine anybody who wouldn't be interested, to tell you the truth," Brumfiel said.  "Looking at the full range of beliefs and activities will enrich and put the often misunderstood Aztec history into its proper historical context."

The Aztec World exhibit runs through April 2009. Click here to learn about special Aztec World events scheduled in the coming months.

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  1. Erin said, Sat Nov 08 17:49:08 UTC 2008:

    Wow…this article sold me! I am going to the aztec exhibit.

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