Don Mundo–A Maya-chortí Indigenous Stone Carver

Copan, Frida Larios

La Pintada is an indigenous community in the Maya archaeological site of Copán Ruins in Honduras, Central America. I was in close contact with the inhabitants of this small village while me, my husband and son were living at my husband’s mother eco-lodge and natural reserve – Hacienda San Lucas.

Don Damacio is one of the life-long workers from La Pintada who maintains the gardens at Hacienda San Lucas (1 kilometer away from La Pintada). He is the father of Don Mundo – the most talented stone-carver I have ever met. Don Mundo is now able to express his artistry through the carefully sculpted New Maya Language accessories he produces for me. You can really feel the 2000-year Maya heritage running through his veins in his stone works. You come to wonder if artistic talent is something that you inherit or you acquire.

Maya art brings to mind many other art wonders from around the world.  Eighth century Classic Maya stella dedicated to King Ubah Kawil of Copán, for example, are often compared to the sculptural traditions of southeast Asia – like twelfth century’s Angkor Wat, Siam Reab in Cambodia. The Copán series of stellas, which depict important royal events with dates and other details inscribed on them, reflect a strong sense of history – they could also be compared to European works such as the fifteenth century Tapisserie de Bayeux embroidery works.

To look on these pictures carved in the seventh to eighth centuries in the “classic” phase of Maya civilisation is to be confronted with a way of life so remote it almost seems like science fiction – and yet these are not just humans, they are artistically accomplished humans. Details like slender fingers, baskets holding ritual tools, stylised flames and pictograms are executed with calm confidence. And because of that, you can visualise the scene in a darkened temple where a wife tortures herself as her husband holds a torch, then hallucinates in her pain and bleeding… It’s a shocking encounter with a lost world. Rembrandt portrays people we empathise with. The [Mayan] lintels portray people who intimidate and perplex us – and yet this art makes us see the deep humanity of their existence.

Jonathan Jones in ‘1000 Artworks To See Before You Die: The Maya’, The Guardian, UK

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