Maya peoples of Guatemala and southeastern Mexico are renowned for their time-honored tradition of magnificent attire. Throughout the world, clothing transforms the biological body into a socio-cultural being, integrating the person into the community. Among the Maya, dress is an outward expression of cultural pride. Dress also conveys one’s place in the world, signaling social identity and geographic origin or current community. It also articulates social structure, political affiliation and religious ideology by way of its decoration which comprises a symbol system of visual codes, the ability to read the message reflecting one’s degree of cultural initiation.
Today’s repertoire of Maya traditional clothing, called traje, developed primarily during the Colonial Period (1521-1821 C.E.) as a forced adoption of European dress. Yet elements of traje reach back more than 2,300 years. Today’s fashions, as adaptations of imposed, foreign modes to indigenous couture, are testimony to Maya perseverance in spite of hundreds of years of colonization, enslavement and genocide.
Maya clothing styles generally are divided along language boundaries. This exhibition features fashions of the Kaqchikel, Ixil, K’iche’, Mam, Tz’utujil, Chuj, Awakatek, Jakaltek and Poqomchi’ from Guatemala, and Tzotzil and Tzeltal from Chiapas, Mexico.