Indigenous Voices: Aztec, Mayan and Incan Codices from the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Collection
Dodd Research Center Gallery
Curator: Marisol Ramos
Hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spaniards in the “New World,” the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas created colorful painted manuscripts in which they described wars, victories, famine, pestilence, religious events, and other aspects of ancient Mesoamerican life. The manuscripts, bound together to form a kind of painted book, are commonly referred to as codices, and they constitute the written remnants of these ancient cultures.
Scribes painted on a type of homegrown paper produced from the amate tree, Ficus glabrata, or on deerskin. Pictorial representations, glyphs, were used for the text. Depending on the region or the scribe, the pictures may or may not represent morphemes or phonemes; many include a mnemonic element.
Following the conquest of the Aztec, Mayan and Incan empires, Spanish clerics and administrators co-opted native scribes and techniques to create codices depicting the history and religious life of the conquered peoples. Such codices, called “relaciones,” mixed Spanish and native traditions to document the conquest for the Spanish Crown or to evangelize the indigenous population.
In other cases, indigenous people created codices to tell their own stories about the Conquest experience and their history, and also, to counteract misconceptions and the oppressive rule of the Spanish Crown and other secular and religious officials over their indigenous subjects.
This exhibit presents facsimiles of Pre-Hispanic and Colonial codices from the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center collections and secondary sources from the Homer Babbidge Library to illustrate the many uses of the codices for historical and art research. A sample display of the work of contemporary Chicano artists who have incorporated Aztec and Mayan images into their art is presented as a way to connect their past with their present.
My thanks to Darlene Hull, former Curator of Hispanic Collections at the Dodd Research Center, who inspired me to prepare this exhibit.