Exhibition Review: “Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea” at the Kimbell Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas

It is difficult to assess critically the work of the Maya in the exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum entitled, “Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea.” I say this because my critical evaluation of their work will never be received or used to enhance the work that was created thousands of centuries ago; however, the exhibition is extraordinary. The grandeur of the small, intricately designed objects, compared to the large scale, imposing stone carvings is impressive and almost awe inspiring. Imaging what it might have been like to witness the civilization using the objects for their intended purposes leaves one wondering what it might have been like to like as a Mayan ruler.

One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit was the burial figurines from El Peru-Waka, located in the midway through the entire exhibit. It struck me because it seemed so out of place, everything else in the exhibit had a relation to the theme of water, or the gods and goddesses that were commonly associated with those themes of what, but upon further research I think I might have found the answer as to why it was included. The piece was originally found in situ in 2006 in burial of an unknown ruler of El Peru-Waka. The collection of figurines was in poor condition and needed extensive restoration to get them back to the state that we now see them in at the exhibit.

In my quest for information for this piece, I found that ritual burial ceremonies were common, especially large, productions following the death of a king. Mayans firmly believed in the practice of ancestor veneration and this scene captures what it just might have been like to witness one of these events in prehistoric times. The piece includes an inner circle of what appear to be shaman, dwarfs, one of which holds a conch shell in his hands, and a burned frog; on the outer circle, the effigies of a king and a queen, stand in a position of prominence, a man wearing only a loincloth kneels underneath the raised arms of a deer, who seems to be in prayer over him, while the remaining figurines appear to be ball players, or individuals involved in some aspect of the ritual ceremony.

Maya civilization placed special emphasis on what they called the Maize God. For them, this god was the one that brought life and in the death of a king (the sacrifice of his life, not literal sacrifice, but sacrifice in the sense that he performed sacrifices during his lifetime to keep the gods happy and his ultimate sacrifice was death, whether it was natural or caused my something else), he was rejoined with the Maize God which would bring life back to the people. During these ceremonies, the individuals involved would use elements, like the conch shell, to call the gods forth and take the kings soul to the afterlife. Items like the conch shell were used because they came from the world of the water, an essential element necessary to providing life to the Maya people, which, life, was ultimately given to them through their appreciation to the gods, especially the Maize God.


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