Sandra Wagemakers
Tiquisate Incensario: A Maya Figurine

Although Christianity seems to be all around us, all around me, I decided to look away from it and explore Maya Art. It may not be from Argentina, but it’s equally interesting. In the texts, and especially in the interview with Borgman, there is an emphasize on Christianity. Often when we define things we look at similarities and differences, and by looking at Maya art, this is precisely what can help define the importance of bodies in both Christian society and the Maya civilization.

Maya art belongs to the pre-columbian art of the Americas initially started during the pre-classical period, (c. 2000 BC to 250 AD) and continued during the classical period (250 AD to 900 AD) and post-classical period all the way through the 15th century. Maya art was important to their lifestyle and culture and served as a trademark. In the interview, Borgman emphasized how Christianity turned away from using the body as a social aspect, to show off. In Maya society, however, this aspect remains important and you can clearly see in this artwork how there is a different perspective of what a good body looks like. Whereas Borgman emphasized that in Christianity people have to accept their body for what it is, body modification is prohibited so to say, this is not so much the case in Maya society. You can see how in this work of art the body is decorated and also manipulated. Look for instance at the ears, which do not seem to be how the Christian God would have created human kind. In their view, the body is not perfect as God has given it, rather it shows status when the body is modificated. The decoration of the body is another element not so much expressed in Christianity but clearly visible in this work of art as you can see by the necklaces and decoration on the arms.

You can see how the story and the body are both connected. How the figurine is decorated and what she is doing tells part of her life-story, of their status in society. Many figurines represent different functions in society such as musicians, messengers, priest, ball players. To some extent a person may modify the body and use it as a form of self-expression, but I would moreover argue that the body and the person are more connected to each other like in premodernity. It is not so much that they alter their body for self-expression, but moreover for the status it gives within a society. The story of one’s life does depend on the story of the body in the sense that it shows your place in society.

It becomes clear by looking at this artwork that the ideal body in Maya society is essentially different from what we have learned about the Christian body. Altering the body is seen as something important to take care of but unlike in Christianity the altering of the body is seen as a status symbol, as something to enhance your life.