Angels and Skulls

Festive paper decorations from Mexico 5/Mar/2016 - 22/Feb/2017

Mexico is a country of festivities. Throughout the year there are many, rich and varied religious and state celebrations as a change from work days. Since pre-Columbian times, the ritual scenarios of feasts have been an integral - generally cheerful - part of social life with parades, music, dances, props, festive costumes and decorations.

In 1521 Spain conquered the Aztecs, and founded the overseas New Spain - today's Mexico. The Franciscan missionaries who arrived with Hernan Cortes recognised and made use of the similarities between the two cultures and religions. They strove to obliterate the Aztec-Mayan gods, the names, dates and order of their celebrations from the memory of the native Indian inhabitants, and replaced them with Christian teachings. But even 500 years later hidden traces of the ancient Mesoamerican beliefs can still be found in the Mexican Catholic ceremonies. Mexico today can be characterised by a very strong, distinctive multiculture fused in its feasts, that has been able to preserve its original world-view in its roots.

Paper was not unknown to the Aztecs. They made a material by hand from the bark of the amate tree and agave fibres with properties similar to paper on which they wrote their codices and attached ritual, cut-out or painted figures. They used this 'paper' for their festive headdresses and loincloths, as well as for the figures that were placed on home altars, on shrouds for the dead or on decorations for sacrificial victims and on the clothes of prisoners-of-war. The printing press and paper arrived in Mexico from Spain in the 16th century. As printing technology developed, coloured prints played a growing role in people's everyday lives. Today in most feasts cheap printed paper decorations are used to give a festive character to altars, homes and the streets.

One of the exemplary characteristics of Mexican folk art is that originally imported themes, objects, techniques and materials are fully adapted to its own visual world, producing very distinctive, even typically Mexican creations. The anonymous graphic designers can practically be regarded as folk artists. Most of the paper decorations exhibited here have a very strong Mexican national character, and give a good idea of the ludic customs of the Mexicans. This can be seen in the colouring of the objects, the figures and in their appearance that can be linked to the Catholic and the unique mesticized beliefs.

These are the reasons why Annamária Bűdy Rocha, a university teacher and games researcher who has lived in Mexico for decades, did not throw out these decorations. Over the years she decorated her own home and business with some of these pieces, then recognising their cultural historical significance, she began to add to them. In 2015 she donated the carefully documented collection of over 200 items to the Museum of Ethnography. The exhibition presents a selection from the new acquisition; the full collection will be accessible on the Museum of Ethnography's website at a later date.

Curator: Vilma főzy