Ancient Bodies: Transformation, Personhood, and Power in Mesoamerica

Art of the Americas, Level 4
April 12, 2018–July 8, 2018

In ancient Mesoamerica, people transformed their bodies to express a range of roles in society and to gain access to metaphysical powers. Bodily conversions were achieved gradually over the course of a lifetime, or rapidly by modifying specific body parts or by wearing prestigious objects. As outward expressions of links between the physical world and other dimensions, altered bodies often reflected, and even cultivated, relationships with other people, animals, and supernatural beings.

This installation reconsiders the figurines from LACMA’s collection that were in Ancient Bodies: Archaeological Perspectives on Mesoamerican Figurines (2017–18), alongside several works that are on display for the first time in many years, to present several facets of transformation in ancient Mesoamerica. Highlighting the cycles of life, standards of beauty, war and sport, and funerary rites, the installation demonstrates differing scales of transformation, how it was manifested through relationships with time and with other beings, and how it was embodied in objects that defined status and demonstrated power.

These person-based aspects of transformation are examined in this installation by pairing intimate presentations of individual’s faces against full-bodied figures. This contrast invites the viewer to consider how power is expressed in different areas of the body and how specific modifications to specific body parts guide social relations with people and animals on Earth, as well as in other realms.

This installation was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

All exhibitions at LACMA are underwritten by the LACMA Exhibition Fund. Major annual support is provided by Kitzia and Richard Goodman, with generous annual funding from Jerry and Kathleen Grundhofer, Lauren Beck and Kimberly Steward, the Judy and Bernard Briskin Family Foundation, Louise and Brad Edgerton, Edgerton Foundation, Emily and Teddy Greenspan, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross, David Schwartz Foundation, Inc., and Lenore and Richard Wayne.

Image: Human Head with Canine Muzzle, Veracruz, 600–900, Veracruz, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost, photo © Justin Kerr