T1-E1:P1-p1-s1 More Aztec research

Outside the exhibition at the Australian Museum

Outside the exhibition at the Australian Museum

How does one approach “cultural fusions” if the other culture had beliefs and practices that we would regard as repugnant in the present day? In many ways the Aztec culture was very hard. They were warriors, conquerors, who exploited other peoples, demanding huge quantities of tributes. They carried out ritual human sacrifice – of war captives, their own people, of adults and children. Apparently minor civil infractions could lead to enslavement of commoners and execution of nobles. Harshness was a part of everyday life – for example children who were lazy or disobedient could be punished by pricking with thorns, or being held in the smoke of burning chillies. One approach could be to wonder how future cultures may view my own – the situation of Australia’s indigenous people, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, lack of choice for the terminally ill, attitudes to the environment … and who knows what which I take for granted as normal and necessary. It could also be that some challenging aspects of Aztec culture were “played up” by the Spanish and the indigenous tribes who supported them in the conquest, as a partial justification. I’ve found it more helpful to learn a little about underlying reasons for actions.

Xipe Totec A3 black and white conte crayon on kraft paper

Xipe Totec
A3 black and white conte crayon on kraft paper

Xipe Totec, the “flayed one” was the god of spring and renewal. Each year victims were defeated in ritual battle, sacrificed, then their skins removed and worn draped over the bodies and head of priests or young men. After 20 days the priests would emerge from the rotting skin – reborn. From death came life, just as seeds come from the husk of corn and can germinate. The god was appeased, and there was hope for a good harvest. The innocent tears of children sacrificed to Tlaloc, god of rain and lightening, helped to ensure plentiful rain. Smoke rising from the burning heart of a victim could replenish the strength of the gods to fight the darkness and ensure the sun rose.

Sculpture of skulls Aztec, 1250 - 1521 Basalt

Sculpture of skulls
Aztec, 1250 – 1521

Bones were the seed of new life, part of the cycle of existence. Some Aztec people would offer themselves for sacrifice, rising to dwell within the heavens, a birth into a new life like a snake shedding its skin. A warrior who died in battle would rise with the sun god each day, and eventually be reborn as a hummingbird or butterfly.

Primeros Memoriales folio 250r (detail)

Primeros Memoriales
folio 250r (detail)

I drafted the above a few days ago, probably with the main intention of acknowledging, “dealing”, with something unpleasant so I could move on to other things. Was I being gentle to myself, not taking risks, not pushing? Was I picking and choosing the “nice” bits of another culture?

Codex Azcatitlan

Codex Azcatitlan

Some individuals would sacrifice their own blood, their own lives. Other victims were unwilling, their lives taken from them because of someone else’s beliefs, someone else’s needs.

p10_complete_01My final work for A Creative Approach was Aged Care (more at 16-Feb-2013). My topic was our torture of the elderly, and particularly “Nancy” – forced to live, trapped in a nursing home in a web of other people’s beliefs and needs. She’s still there, almost five years now, the last six months eating mush while our dental service gets around to providing new dentures. I try to visit most weeks – undoubtedly the worst hour of the week. Nancy’s treatment is no more gentle, no more merciful, no more about her the individual, no less about other people’s beliefs and customs, no less a sacrifice than what the Aztecs demanded.

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

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November 2014

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