Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Imaginary and human body in Mexican culture

Mexican dress. Picture taken at Olvera St. in Los Angeles. Personal archives

Huitzilopochtli tatoo. Internet download.
Although there are fixed elements that persist in a culture, other elements to observe are those not fixed, or semi fixed that are more periferic and commendable of change along the time, like dressing and tattoos. In seeking to understand the Chicano space, it may help to consider the body, “as the relationship to space of a “subject” who is a member of a group or society implies his relationship to his own body and vice versa”. (H. Lefevre:40) Social practice presupposes the use of the body as the realm of our perceptions. The body can be set up in a code where consensus is found only in some groups.

The Aztec "ixiptla" has been the palpable manifestation of the imaginary, in the use of the human body, not as a representation, but as alive incarnation from the god to which was represented. The rite could also be carried out by means of the ingesta of hallucinogens, this habit, only allowed to the noblemen of the tribe.
Among the rituals described in the Chronicles of the “conquistadores”, it was usual the garments on statues and the "nutritious" consumption of sacred images in the sacrifices. This ritual as a type of "ixiptla", evokes reminiscences of the Eucharistic consumption. In the rite, the god became present in a sort of hierofany: the sacred gave values to the community, direction and purpose in an absolutely narrow relationship with the human being. To the point that if the image invested of "supernaturality" did not fulfill the expectations, a person could insult, damage, break, stain, burn, cut, nail the image, according to the dimension of his anger.
The relationship of the imaginary with the body - the Baroque body -, can also be found in the use of masks, ornaments and tattoos or paintings on the skin. Shortly after the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521, the Spanish conquerors had to instruct indigenous populations to convert them into Catholicism. The Franciscans in charge - who arrived at New Spain in 1523 - did not rely on simple verbal instruction. They understood dramatic performances would be ideal.

In the theatralizations of the indigenous converts, the garments and the scenery of mountains and buildings charged great importance as the celestial characters' frame. To reinforce the beliefs, the monks manipulated the artifice developing "special effects" with primitive machineries. The angels, the Sacred Spirit, they seemed to get off the sky and the Virgin was ascended to a cloud.... (Gruzinski, p. 91).
The current Mexican vestiments are a reflection of identity. The clothes covers with embroideries, indistinctly masculine or feminine; the table covers with embroidered cloths, the beds, armchairs and curtains with heavy stamped cloths. The favorite topic of the printing is the flowers and religious topics.
In a transmutation of the concepts, the image is consumed with skulls of sugar in the Day of All the Deads; the theatrality has been overturned by the musicians and the wrestling (free fight), the masks and the fighters' multicolored layers no longer represent the gods and warriors, but the conviction of belonging to the social group.
Then, as well as the objects transcend the spaces, the iconography is stamped in the clothes, it becomes an obtained relic of the Sacred one –saints- and then it passes over the clothes until arriving to the body covered with jewelery, the one that allows to see tattoos of the Virgin, or Aztec figures; never dragons neither arabesque that are considered part of other cultures. The tattoo becomes a currícula of life.

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