Over the last few decades, Joseph Johnston (artemaya.org) and Rita Moran (mayawomeninart.org) have collected paintings produced by self-taught Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel Maya artists from the Departments of Sololá and Chimaltenango in Guatemala. These paintings depict the daily life, traditions, and struggles of the indigenous Maya communities, and many of them strikingly portray Maya religious and healing traditions. It is these paintings and objects that are included in this exhibit, introducing the rich and complicated spiritual life of the contemporary Maya.
Rita and Joseph have not only assembled two incredible, complementary collections, but Joseph has worked closely with these Maya artists for over 30 years. He has also done scholarly research to put these works into their proper cultural context. Not being Maya, he asked Ajpub’ Pablo Garcia Ixmata, whom he had known as a teenager, if he would help on the project. In 1989, Ajpub’ was one of five Maya from different Maya language groups that the prominent linguist Nora Clearman England taught to analyze their languages. Ajpub’ wrote the first Tz’utujil Maya grammar book and worked on the first Spanish/Tz’utujil dictionary. He is now director of the prestigious Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín in Antigua, Guatemala.
For this exhibit, Joseph wrote the initial draft of most of the long texts that serve as reference materials for the paintings. Ajpub’ made extensive corrections and additions to them, and Rita focused on editing and translation. Her son, Paul Moran, assisted with the written translations. Other contributors to the group were Tz’utujil artist Oscar Fernando Saquic Nix, and K’iche’ ajq’iij (Maya spiritual guide) K’ojol B’alam. The project took a year and a half to complete.
In addition to the brief descriptions of each object in the exhibit, English and Spanish versions of the lengthier contextual documentation for each work of art are included.
Johnston, Joseph W., Ajpub’ Pablo Garcia Ixmata, Rita Moran (tran.), and Paul Moran (tran.). “Maya Spirituality: Indigenous Paintings 1957 – 2020.” Latin American Studies Association (LASA), https://mayaspirituality.lasaweb.org/.