Thursday, 21 January 2010

Let's go to Mexico.

You see? Home education takes you everywhere. One morning our eyes open and focus on a teddy bear; another hour, the snow, clumped in great heaps against the window. And today, anticipating having our hearts ripped from our bodies, atop a step pyramid in Tenochtitlan.

For that delight, we have to walk to get there.

Mostly because I am too mean to pay the extra £2.60 for the bus from Euston to the British Museum. Anyway, it's only 20 minutes, and in this free-range world of ours we can call it nourishment for our bodies as well as our minds.

You know the exhibition for Moctezuma is over. I hope you didn't hang on for a review from Grit. Anyway, don't worry. Grab hold of the exhibition guide. The exhibition itself? Dour.

I can't write about it all. I could say lots. The use of the Reading Room as an exhibition space. The tone of the exhibition. Moctezuma's place in an ordered hierarchy of the Mexica world. The supporting materials. The dead cold sacrificial stones. The eagle. Spare me, the eagle. The arrival of the Spanish. More slaughter. The sudden story switch, from one told in carved volcanic rocks, to a shiny oil on canvas. All dealings with death.

Shark, Squirrel and Tiger pause at every exhibited item, drawing and writing obsessively. I promise to buy the exhibition guide twenty-five times over, so we can go. They force me to linger. Squirrel returns to me, time and time again, Why did they do that? Why did they kill people to make the sun rise? Did they kill the children too?

Some things, I tell Squirrel, with a cuddle, I cannot explain. I cannot explain Mexica thinking. I am on the wrong side of the world. I can try with the Conquistadors. I know the story there. God, gold, glory, girls.

But in Mexica, it's all so different to how we live today. What we see here, in this world left behind, no-one is tender, no outstretched hands in love. No fat bellied women, no domestic pictures, no ordinary chores. Men are warriors, demi-gods, offerings.

Mortal women are invisible. Except one. She's a statue, female figure, kneeling. She has breasts, says the caption. I stare at her. I can't see them. She doesn't have breasts. She's different from the male because he has shoulder blades and she doesn't. Shoulder blades? Breasts? It's an easy mistake to make I guess if you are the industrious curator to the female figure c 1325 Mexica 42x19.6x26.5cm. But by this stage, and we are only in Room 2, I want her to have real, heaving, breasts. I know I'm living in this twenty-first century implant world, but still, by now, even a couple of fried eggs would be good. Because breasts mean children. And children mean love. But there just isn't any.

I don't know whether this exhibition simply chose all the stone carvings of power and hierarchy and eagle bone, and hid all the statues of beautiful women with breasts and plump thighs, or whether the Spanish so truly destroyed any remnants of softness, that now there really aren't representations of women in Mexica culture that are not all clawed hands and bared teeth.

So we're left with Coatlicue, who hangs dismembered hands around her neck and chills my soul with her fangs and lethal stare. Or the moon goddess, Coyolxauhqui, lying dismembered, a skull under her arm.

But there must have been mortal women; women giving birth, nursing babies, shaping the land, picking corn, working cloth, smoothing garments, pressing their hands against the scrap of life in a child. Here, nothing like that. Nothing at all.

Now I could come over all feminist and say that this strikes me as a supreme example of a patriarchal society. What is it with you boys? Military conquest, sharp spears, ripped up hearts, bloodletting, war, death and corpses.

Yet it tells me other things too, like the supreme power of any ideology. Women, giving up their children, sons, brothers, husbands, ushering them on to sacrifice, because this is Wednesday, and this is how devotion is shown. Did those hands willingly guide those kin farewell on the journey to feed the sun?

Did no one say, let's not do that? asks Squirrel. Let's give the sacrifice a miss, just for today? Let's play music, and see what happens instead, tomorrow, at dawn?

I draw Squirrel close, and tell her that ideology means sometimes people do things that it's not in their best interest to do. And while individuals might question the vision, they can rarely break free alone; they need the support of many. And if we're taking home a lesson, it could be that one.

Or perhaps that we should all draw more pictures to leave behind us. Pictures of fat women and men enfolding children and laughing with love.


Maire said...

I was just thinking about those child sacrifices this morning, wondering if children like I was would be chosen. Children who often didn't quite get it, couldn't remember things and couldn't find their way from A to B without help. Then I was thinking of those already confused children driven to even more extreme terror.

Or were the population all trained to accept it, would the parents and siblings be pleased because now they would have a personal advocate in the place of the gods. Were the children pleased to be chosen, were they drugged so that they did not wake up to the truth of their plight before they died.

Dark thoughts brought to the fore by this attack on us just as I had got myself to a place were the normals could have very little say in my life. They don't like that.

sharon said...

I think you hit the nail on the head there Grit with the answer to Squirrel re ideology making people do things that are not in their best interest. Some things never change either, although now it is your children's aspirations that are being sacrificed on the altar of Ideology rather than their bodies.

Grit said...

hi maire. i have discovered how little sympathy i have for this period, and that truly shocks me, because normally I prefer to live in 1522 rather than 2010. i am glad to be done with it, and hope the children do not turn into aztec enthusiasts.

yes, sharon. i think that's right.

Maire said...

I think the period probably has lots of fascination for young children, but some of the documentaries about it have made my blood run cold (even more than Ed Balls does!). Hopefully they will move on to a more sympathetic period if there truly is one.

Michelle said...

I blogged over a year ago; "Hadrian:Empire and Conflict. It's a good exhibition and I'm glad we went - we all got different things out of it but we all felt other places had given us more information and a better experience for less money.

It had a bit of wow factor at first as the exhibition is in the old round reading room. I've never been in that room before and it is truly a fantastic space. Would be even more impressive as a reading room than an exhibition venue I think. It will revert to being a reading room in 2012 so I would like to go back and see it with all the books moved back in."

So, hoping 2012 is still on target, only 2 years to go before it is restored to it's designated use.

Michelle said...

of course, after paying for entry I discovered HE-ors can get into those special events at the BM for free. Not that I've been to any since.

MadameSmokinGun said...

I kind of meant to go to the exhibition on the grounds that I like the blue face thing - but I've always had a bit of a problem with the whole Cortez Bad - Montezuma Good thing. It's very interesting how you described the exhibits. I wonder too about the female, family depictions - ie were there ever any in their culture or have they just been missed out for the more sensational stuff?

It makes you think about any exhibition about anything - you think you're gonna get some insights into something but are you just getting an insight into the exhibitor? Would they argue (as most media pap is excused) that they are showing us 'what we want'?

You've got me all thinky now.

mamacrow said...

Grit - as with most societies that practiced human society, the Aztecs usually sacraficed prisinors of war - outsiders, not their own peoples. So women weren't necessarily giving up their own children etc I don't think.

archiological evidence of human sacrafice in both the ancient south american and celtic cultures show that victims were usually fed some kind of poison/sedating drug as a last sacred meal. This doesn't nesecarily mean the victims were therfore blissed out, far more likely in a halucinagenic state - scary stuff.

Aparently Montezuma I, in 1440 burnt all the old texts and basically rewrote Aztec history, introducing the flower wars and regular human sacrafice into the culture. He has a lot to answer for I guess.

Willing sacrafice is a powerful concept that runs through many cultures, and is a mythic theme dating back far before Jesus.

An Acceptable Time by Madaline L'Engle is a great one to read regarding the concept of human sacrafice.

mamacrow said...

oh - the only art references to Aztec woman I can find is ones of them presiding over religious ceremeonies, but if Montezuma burnt all the texts maybe he destroyed a lot of art too? who knows.

Grit said...

thanks people for your comments. and thanks mamacrow for reading to do in a different direction.

mamacrow said...

I ought to have warned you - Madelain L'Engle is seriously addictive (also bloody cheep on Amazon)