Creating a New Tradition Based on Images of the Maya Past at Northern Illinois University's School of Art in September 2009

The exhibition “Crafting Maya Identity: Contemporary Wood Sculptures from the Puuc Region of Yucatán, Mexico” considers woodcarvings by four contemporary Yucatec Maya artisans:  Miguel Uc Delgado, Jesús Marcos Delgado Kú, Angel Ruíz Novelo, and Wilbert Vázquez.  These finely detailed, hand-carved, and aesthetically engaging works are replicas of subjects based on ancient Maya sculptures, ceramics, and manuscripts. Produced for sale at archaeological sites in northern Yucatán, they are purchased principally by ‘cultural tourists’ who visit these sites on organized educational trips.

The influx of cultural tourists to archaeological sites in the Puuc region provided the impetus for a group of entrepreneurial local artisans to combine opportunities for economic gain with creative expression. The Puuc carvings are a complex phenomenon and they present problematic images of “Maya” identity. Many tourists recognize them as being accurate facsimiles of ancient Maya imagery. This, coupled with the fact that they are handmade by a local “Maya” artisan, gives them a certain “authenticity” while providing a tangible reminder of a visit to the “Maya World.” The artisans recognize that a historical and cultural gulf separates them from the ancient Maya, yet feel a sense of pride in their distant ancestral heritage. While the carvings are made to supplement income, and vary in size, detail, and level of finish, Miguel Uc Delgado, Angel Ruíz Novelo, Jesús Delgado Kú, and Wilbert Vázquez make it clear that making these carvings provides them with sense of satisfaction and personal creative expression. Although tourism tends to reinforce visitors’ ideas that the most authentic image of Maya culture resides in the Pre-Columbian past, the economic incentive it provides also has supported these artisans’ efforts to reclaim and re-task such cultural imagery, giving it new meanings that convey only one strand of their more complex contemporary cultural identities.

The artists and the exhibition of their works will be seen at the Jack Olson Gallery at Northern Illinois University August 31- September 25, 2009 and at Teatro Peon Contreras in Mérida, Yucatán during September-October 2010.

See the Exhibition brochure for more details.

1.25. Miguel Uc Delgado, three-dimensional portrait head of the ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal II, cedar, H-W-D, 10 x 3 x 5 inches (25 x 8 x 13 cm.), based on the stucco portrait head from Palenque, Chiapas. Photograph by Jeff Kowalski.

1.2. The Main Palace at Sayil, Yucatán.
Photograph by Mary Katherine Scott.

See the Symposium schedule for more details.

1.1. Angel Ruíz Novelo, Lady K’abal Xook with a ‘vision serpent’ and royal ancestor, cedar, H-W, 27 x 17 inches
(69 x 43 cm.), based on Lintel 25 from Yaxchilan, Chiapas. Photograph by Jeff Kowalski.

The symposium is free and open to the public.

We encourage attendees to contact Connie Rhoton (, or 815-753-1474) to give us an indication of the audience size. Those who would like to purchase an on-site lunch, which will cost  $8.00, must pre-register by contacting Connie Rhoton.

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