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Museum review: The Aztec World

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A mask carved from a human skull, the nose and tongue skewered by ceremonial daggers. This artifact, on display at the Field’s exclusive and expansive new exhibit, “The Aztec World,” exemplifies the most shocking aspects of the Mesoamerican tribe that, in just 200 years, shaped the foundations of modern-day Mexico. Caricaturized in the popular media as brutal and blood-thirsty, the Aztecs were in actuality a deeply complex, sophisticated society fascinated with dyads: male and female, light and darkness, life and death. This assemblage of nearly 300 artifacts has been collected in collaboration with ten Mexican museums. The exhibit explores the stark and shocking duality of the Aztecs: an empire that embraced life through technical and artistic achievements, and death through ritual human sacrifice. Museum guests can view wares from the Great Aztec Market, which dwarfed its European counterparts, as well as large stone statues excavated from the “House of Eagles” and the Templo Mayor in Mexico City. Another artifact—a large, rabbit-shaped drinking vessel for the alcoholic pulque—exemplifies a little-known aspect of Aztec culture: a charming and whimsical sense of humor. The Aztecs saw a rabbit’s silhouette in the face of the moon, thereby associating rabbits with a popular nighttime activity: drunkenness. (Laura Hawbaker)
“The Aztec World” runs at the Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore, through April 19, 2009.

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