Wednesday, March 07, 2007

rite of spring

estella 12 top

Heading to Austin tomorrow to check in with the folks at the Maya Meetings. This has become a fairly regular rite of spring for us, although we missed the last couple of years because I was giving it all to the Man, and waited too long to book a room in town – a fatal error in the days surrounding the SXSW festival, which has morphed from Music into Interactive and Film, too.

Thought about trying to catch some of the Interactive while I was down there; then thought better of it. Days at home lately have become too precious and few. Do hope to catch a little spillover music while we’re in town, if we get lucky.

This will be the second year that they’re “doing things differently” at the meetings – Nikolai Grube left the seat that he inherited from Linda Schele a few years back. He was pretty much a traditionalist, and the meetings ran Linda’s way while he occupied the chair: Two days of papers (Thursday and Friday), followed by two days of collective decipherment (Saturday and Sunday) – which meant the rock stars of Mayan Studies armed with Sharpies hovering around an overhead projector, outlining and highlighting glyphs and their assorted and sundry parts, and making strange guttural utterances to the approval and/or dismay of the peanut gallery.

estella 12 detail

Worth noting: the peanut gallery is one of the best parts of these meetings, being a mash of notables and nobodys – Justin Kerr, Simon Martin, Michael Coe, Merle Greene, you get the picture… -- surrounded by young Turks and aging groupies (my sweetie and I fall into the aging set) who share little in common outside a prurient interest in the things folks etched in stone down South many, many years ago.

The initial four days used to be followed by a whole week of breakout workshops, in which folks sat down with notebooks full of inscriptions and Mayan grammars and went to town. I never did manage to make the time to stay for the follow up week, and regret now that I never will, because it's been tightened into a considerably more brief few days.

David Stuart is running the show now, having inherited the seat from Grube, and the event as a whole has been compressed. Jury’s still out on whether it’s for the good or the bad – I haven’t experienced it myself, and when I press folks who have for details all I get is a tight-lipped “it’s different”. So we’ll see.

Was pleased to hear that we’ll be taking on Piedras Negras inscriptions, along with a few of its Usumacinta neighbors: Yaxchilan and Pomona. One of my all time fave stellas hails from Piedras Negras, a now inaccessible site along the river because it’s largely occupied by drug lords who have made the monuments their home.

estella 12 4 captives

Estella 12 lives in the National Gallery in Guatemala City now, tucked away in a corner of the partially open patio in the heart of the galleries.

It’s stunning.

It portrays mortified captives under the thrall of their conquerors, and I’ve read none of the formal scholarship so I can no longer sort out what I heard from someone who knew something and what I made up on my own, but to the best of my knowledge the estella was carved by the captives it depicts. And it shows.

The captives (from Copan, I think -- the "Paris of the Mayan World" -- one of the captives is branded with the Copan emblem glyph) are wholly human, distinct, unique, and their suffering is palatable. Their captors are stiff and brutish – the weathering probably has something to do with the fact that they lack the humanity that’s conveyed so vividly in the folks whom they’ve enslaved under their feet – but I suspect it has something to do with the artist’s perspective as well.

So with any luck I’ll come away from the weekend understanding, finally, what the stone says. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Piedras Negras Estella 12, detail

2 comments:

Larry Miller said...

As someone who follows your photography on flickr I am very happy to find your blog.

suttonhoo said...

would that be larry of larry & flo fame? great to see you, man -- thanks for stopping by. :)

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