As anyone who has visited Yucatán can tell you, Maya culture is very much alive and thriving throughout parts of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. This culture is incredibly diverse and nowhere is that more obvious than in the art produced by its people today. Maya art can be found in weavings, hammocks, masks, clothing, sculptures, and paintings. One can easily find and take home a piece of Maya art in a blouse, a bracelet, or a belt, hand-woven in Chiapas. The Chiapas women selling them in the square in Mérida, or on the streets of Playa del Carmen, also have purses made from old huipiles or newly embroidered purses, all at extremely reasonable prices. Hammocks, of course, can be found almost everywhere in Yucatan, although the ones made with true artistry can be more difficult to find.
The less portable art objects, such as masks, sculptures and paintings, are not transported to Yucatán by the itinerant travelers, but can be found in a few shops on the Yucatán Peninsula or occasionally uncovered in a chance encounter. Sculptures and masks are, almost without exception, created as part of traditional ceremonies that Maya engage in throughout the year to honor their saints and their ancestors. Sculptures are usually created to be an object of worship, as practically every Maya home has some corner reserved for an altar. Masks, on the other hand, are carved for special occasions. They have been worn for ceremonies and dances for many years, and are a physical manifestation of the fascinating history and legends that are still very much a part of Maya life. Masks can be found that are carved specifically for sale. The masks that are carved to be used in dances, and then sold, are considered much more valuable.
Painting is an art that is only practiced in a few pueblos in the Maya world. The most famous Maya painters are of the Tzutujil tribe, most of whom live in Chiapas or Guatemala. The Tzutujil are one of the smallest Maya tribes, and they have managed to preserve many of their pre-Columbian traditions. Traditional handcraft has always been a source of income for them, which in their case includes painting.
Works by well-known artists from this area, such as Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay and Mariano Gonzalez Chavajay, are difficult to find and are becoming more and more valuable. Some of the newer painters are also quite good and the prices of their paintings are still quite reasonable.
Maya contemporary painting, referred to as naive art, started in 1920 with Juan Sisay from Santiago Atitlan and Rafael Gonzales y Gonzales from San Pedro la Laguna, who were inspired by travelers who came to paint in their village.
Paintings from these artists and their descendants reflect their everyday lives, including ceremonies, dances, processions, and healing activities, as well as working in the fields and selling in the mercados.
If you are visiting the Yucatán Peninsula, you can find textiles, masks, sculptures, and various other objects from the Maya world and other parts of Mexico at Hecho a Mano in Izamal. And if you are interested in buying works from one of Mérida’s most beloved artists, visit the website of Georgia Charuhas. www.georgiacharuhas.com
Hecho a Mano, Calle 31 #323 x 36 y 34, Izamal, Yucatan, 97540. Tel. (999) 926 0002. Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 am to 2 pm, 4 pm to 7 pm.
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