“There are a lot of really eye-catching pieces in this exhibit,” Gary Feinman, a curator of the Aztec World exhibit at the Field museum, said.
Eye-catching may be an understatement. 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.
Imagine no more. The Aztec world exhibit opened at the Field Museum October 26 and the museum is pulling out all the stops to promote its significance. On Saturday, the museum devoted an entire day to the ancient Aztec civilization. It’s a contemporary twist on an ancient culture.
To get the whole day in, visitors had to arrive early. Feinman said he thinks it should take about an hour to get through the exhibit. There are about 300 pieces in the Aztec World that have never been on display at the museum.
Elizabeth Brumfiel, another curator of the Aztec world exhibit and a Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University, said that of the 300 pieces in the exhibit, 200 of them are from Mexico. Brumfiel, who has been working on the exhibit for three years, 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 esthetic 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 to rituals and more 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 the exhibit, a dance was performed by the Mexican dance group Nahui Ollin (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 main hall of the museum was full of people with their arms stretched out and up in the air. The Nahui Ollin dancers lit the 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 and the museum had an energy that is rarely seen.
Ferreyra announced to the audience that their Aztec teachings and dances are for everyone to learn and see. The group is not religious, 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 at the museum and played for a crowd full of parents, dancers, and museum enthusiasts.
Overall, the Field Museum made the Aztec world more than an exhibit. The day 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 and more educational and entertainment shows are scheduled.
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Elizabeth Brumfiel, Curator of the Aztec World Exhibit and Anthropology Professor at Northwestern University, 847-491-4564
Gary Feinman, Curator of the Aztec World Exhibit, 312-665-7193
Roberto Ferreyra, Creator of Nahui Ollin, 312-733-8431