Hombres de maíz (Corn Men) is the title of a novel published in 1949 by Guatemalan writer Miguel Ángel Asturias, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Taking as a reference Popol Vuh, a book encapsulating the knowledge of Mayan tradition, and from the belief of these native peoples that their flesh was made of corn, Asturias confronts in his story the two types of society based on the use they make of cereal: while indigenous peoples respect its sacred and integrating value, the corn farmers who fell trees to expand arable land do not see beyond commercial gain.
In his same-titled piece, Corn Man (2019), Tz’utujil Mayan artist Benvenuto Chavajay questions Miguel Ángel Asturias’s ambiguous position towards indigenous people, framed inside the creole thought that governed Guatemalan modernity. The performance ritual, in which the maize-covered body of the artist becomes a curative vehicle to symbolically heal the colonial wound, involved a walk to the Parisian cemetery Père Lachaise, where the Nobel prize-winner is buried: “I wanted to demonstrate that the true man of maize, the Mayan, is alive and has existed long before and long after Asturias’s work”.
Chavajay is part of a generation of Guatemalan contemporary artists whose work is profoundly linked to their culture and language, family history and the place where they live and work, on the shores of Lake Atitlán. In this room we can observe works by some of these names, for instance Edgar Calel and Marilyn Boror, Kaqchikel artists who use language and its translations as a strategy of cultural resistance opposite Westernisation and colonialism. The same occurs in the works of Antonio Pichillá, who, through the colours of maize — white, black, yellow, red — transmits the symbolism of this sacred food in Mayan culture. Common in his pieces is the use of textiles and knots in reference to traditional shamanistic practices. This is also present in the work of Sandra Monterroso, whose Columna vertebral roja (Red Spinal Column, 2017) conceals the life stories shared between the Mayan women who worked with the artist while she made the piece.
Framed inside this revision of the history of Mesoamerica is also the project on the exoticisation and mechanisms of representation in Mayan culture by Kaqchikel brothers Ángel and Fernando Poyón.