T1-E1:P1-p1-s1 Choosing a subject – Aztec culture

The course notes begin with a brief introduction to textiles through history. Concepts include:

  • High value based in the skill, labour and materials involved in production
  • Moved between cultures in trade and exchange
  • Technology and skilled workmen also travelled
  • Uses include ritual, art, personal identity
  • Meaning in symbols and colours
  • Significant in economies, vulnerable to political events
  • Mass production and globalisation – loss of symbolic meaning; rapid turnover

In summary textiles “reveal insight into the time, place, culture and socio-economic conditions underlying their production” (OCA course notes).

For this project we are asked to research a design from a particular culture, to use as inspiration in our own work. Keen to work from original sources, I am taking advantage of a current exhibition at the Australian Museum and have chosen the Aztecs (see australianmuseum.net.au/landing/aztecs/ for the museum site).

Sculpture of skulls Aztec, 1250 - 1521 Basalt

Sculpture of skulls
Aztec, 1250 – 1521

Before visiting the exhibition I knew little about the Aztec – basically a central american people, warlike, given to ritual human sacrifice, short-lived empire ended by invading Spanish.

Some new (to me) information, largely based on signage at the museum, that I might be able to develop:

  • Respected and identified with earlier local cultures.
  • Saw themselves as descendants of the mighty Tolec.
  • Warriors wore animal regalia, believing the animal’s strength and spirit would assist them.
  • Stamps and body prints were popular, especially in ceremonies.
  • Skulls could symbolise life, fertility, health and abundance as well as the land of the dead. Bones make the seed to make new people.
  • Detail of replica eagle warrior costume

    Detail of replica eagle warrior costume

  • There were no original textiles, but this replica included some interesting techniques.
  • Fine cloth was highly valued. Being a mastercraftsperson earnt respect.
  • Cloth was a major part of the tributes required from conquered tribes.
  • Commoners were not permitted to wear cotton. They wore cloth from spun and woven fibres of the maguey plant.
  • Warriors wore protection of quilted cotton.
  • Trade items included cochineal, rabbit fur, turquoise, shells and feathers.
  • A spindle and maguey fibre would be given to a baby girl a few days old.
  • Crop gardens were created in the lake by enclosing an area with stakes and filling with dredged soils and waste material including human waste.
  • Some toys had wheels, but they were not used as a tool, and there were no horses or oxen. Everything had to be done manually.
  • Fragment of a brazier Origins unknown, about 1300 Fired clay

    Fragment of a brazier
    Origins unknown, about 1300
    Fired clay

  • I was fascinated with this fragment, suggesting the passage of time with a young woman’s face, surrounded by an old woman’s, and then a death mask.
  • Another work explored duality, combining living and decomposing sides in a single head sculpture.
  • More photographs of the exhibition can be seen on a new Resource page – click here.

    Throughout the exhibition were images taken from some of the codices produced by the Spanish soon after the conquest of the Aztec. They used the pictograms and glyphs of the Aztec, adding notations in Spanish. A lot of this material is available on the internet. I’ve only just started looking through it.

    From pictograms in Codex Ixtlilxochitl A3 Conte crayon on white cartridge paper, 110gsm

    From pictograms in Codex Ixtlilxochitl
    Conte crayon on white cartridge paper, 110gsm

    I’m trying to get into a very regular habit with sketchbook work. That’s being added to the Resources page too, starting here.

    From these initial steps I am feeling very positive about my choice of the Aztec culture as my focus. The lack of original textiles is disappointing, especially after the wonderful samples included in the Gold and the Incas exhibition at the National Gallery earlier this year – see for example here. I also have books with illustrations of early Peruvian textiles. The assignment requirements allow for looking at a number of cultures, but I think I should be able to find more than enough inspiration “limiting” myself to the Aztecs. I already see possibilities for both saleable products and more conceptual work, but will try to keep a very open mind as I continue research.

    T1-E1:P1-p1-s1 Choosing a subject – Aztec culture
    Textiles 1 – Exploring Ideas
    Part 1: Cultural fusions
    Project 1: Interpreting cultural sources
    Stage 1: Researching source material
    Choosing a subject – Aztec culture

    0 Responses to “T1-E1:P1-p1-s1 Choosing a subject – Aztec culture”

    1. Leave a Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


    No Instagram images were found.

    Calendar of Posts

    November 2014
    M T W T F S S

    Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.



    %d bloggers like this: