“Inspired by MAYA: Indigenous and Latino Art Experience,” Bank of America Gallery, Union Station

Installation view, left to right: Jose Faus, Yawar; Dillen Peace, Earth and Sky Baby; Sue Moreno, Ancestors; Mona Cliff, Notes on Conjured Topography; Robert Castillo, Portrait of my Father; Kiki Serna, Recuerda tu Nombre

“The Maya people are still alive,” curator and artist Chico Sierra said at the February 21 opening reception of the “Inspired by MAYA” exhibition at Union Station. The exhibition relates local contemporary Indigenous and Latino artworks to the travelling “MAYA: The Great Jaguar Rises” exhibition.

In the Bank of America Gallery at the end of the blockbuster exhibit, the diverse identities and practices of the contemporary Kansas City artists lend themselves well to comparisons with Mayan art from centuries past. (See the November/December 2022 issue of “KC Studio” for an overview of that exhibit by Bryan F. Le Beau.) For instance, artist Laedan DINKC Galicia’s  work El Inicio” emulates his own street art and murals that operate under the motto “El Vivir Es Morir” (to live is to die), but the work also captures the energy of Mayan hieroglyphic codices, which illustrate astronomical and calendrical events, rituals and beliefs.

Installation view, left to Right: Chico Sierra, Science of Sustenance; Francisco Gabuardy, The Golden One;
DINKC, El Inicio; Paulina Otero, Maya Mobile no 2

Robert Castillo provided several works for the exhibition, all different from one another. His “Mayan Water Lily” Jaguar painting explores Castillo’s Mayan heritage by engaging with mythological iconography. In the Classic Mayan period (250–900 AD), the Water Lily Jaguar was originally painted on a ceramic vessel, as explained by Castillo. The jaguar was seen as the ruler of the underworld with water lilies as symbols of renewal of life. Castillo’s multimedia painting incorporates hand-ground coffee grown in Southern Mexico, where his family originated. The painting offers a powerful statement on heritage, material goods, and the ways in which psychedelics played an important role in promoting growth, renewal, and neuroplasticity in the Mayan people.

The framing of the art in the exhibit is of utmost importance to several artists. Castillo’s intricate, custom-made frame with geometric patterning for his “Portrait of my Father” speaks to the dynamism of the whole work in its environment. In a similar way, Daniel Estrada’s “Life after death” expresses his attention to how the frame complements the watercolor and pencil on paper. The multicolored wood frame surrounding Estrada’s piece repeats a pattern that guides the viewer’s eye to the various symbols in the painting, which include a skull, mushrooms, a serpent, and a human figure. These frames ask the viewer to think about the implication of the materials used to create them. Tropical wood such as acacia, cocobolo, bocote and Desert Ironwood, for instance, were once utilized by Mayan cultures to make art, architecture, and functional objects and are today considered exotic commodities. 

Installation view: (foreground) Cesar Lopez, Structural Ring; (background far right) Ruben Castillo,
Wall Paper Proposal; Melissa Guadalupe Wolf, Unity and Attachment; Carlos Ortiz, Untitled I;
Hugo Ximello Salido, Chaac (Mayan God of Water & Rain); César Velez, Spring; Daniel Estrada, Life after death.

“Inspired by MAYA” also features exceptional three-dimensional works. Hugo Ximello Salido’s “Chaac (Mayan God of Water & Rain)” confronts the multisensorial aspects of art. The work, which includes brass, aluminum, palm tree and the tactile sensations of touching those textures. The god Chaac supposedly strikes the clouds with a palm tree, and textiles on clay board, invites the viewer to ponder aspects of materiality his lightning axe, causing the clouds to roar with thunder, and the composition of Ximello Salido’s work thus recalls a musical instrument in which metal strikes metal. The artist said he “hopes to challenge stereotypes, commercialization and commodification, and the arbitrary barriers we create between our shared humanity.”

Sierra had a specific goal in mind in curating “Inspired by Maya.” “What I’d like people to remember and ponder while visiting the exhibit,” he said, “is that the Maya aren’t a people who have disappeared mysteriously; they are a people very much alive and still inspiring Latino and Indigenous artists. That conversation extends to the First Nations people of what is now called North, South and Central America and beyond.”

The exhibit also includes works by Ruben Castillo, Jonathan Christensen Caballero, Mona Cliff, , Jose Faus, Erick Felix, Francisco Gabuardy, Fredy Gabuardy, Melissa Guadalupe Wolf, Cesar Lopez, Andrew Mcilvaine, Astrid E Miery, Teran Jibaja, Sue Moreno, Carlos Ortiz, Paulina Otero, Dillen Peace, Socorro Rico, Kiki Serna, Chico Sierra, Dan Solano, Vania Soto and Cesar Velez.

“Inspired by MAYA: Indigenous and Latino Art Experience” continues at Bank of America Gallery at Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Rd., Suite #400, through March 12. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. For more information, unionstation.org/event/maya.

Ashley Lindeman

Ashley Lindeman is an art historian, educator, and arts writer. She recently earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University, and she works full time as Assistant Professor of Humanities at Johnson County Community College.

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