Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Smoking Mirror

Europe was conquered by the Aztecs 500 ago. This according to Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Villacis' Smoking Mirror show at Bernt Green. "Villacis proposes this alternate history in a mock museum exhibit that documents the conquest of Europe by the Aztecs through an array of fake artifacts and explanatory captions written in the simplistic, knowing tone of museumspeak," writes Cindy Chang in her excellent review of the show for the LAT.
Originally conceived as a graphic novel, Villacis' revised history starts with the capture of Columbus upon landing in Mexico. "Aztec authorities learned that an unknown land existed faraway on the East. Such discovery was seen as an act of grace. The Empire desperately needed more souls for the sacrifices of the Gods and more slaves to support its thriving economy. Seeing a map brought by the strangers, our ancestors decided to explore that new continent," says the intro to the museum.
Appalled by the local arborigenes' customs, the Aztecs proceeded to colonize them. "How should we call this land?" they asked. "It is what Mexico is not. Therefore we shall call it Amexica."

"The Aztecs' attempts to understand the European culture they are destroying are as comically uninformed as were those of the conquistadors in Latin America," writes Chang. Michelangelo's Sixtine Chapel? destroyed as a heretic homosexual mural. Christianity? idolatry rooted in hate and violence, which called for the establishment of missions. Local means of transportation? sturdy slaves, preferably Germanic: reliable and always on time." And so on.

Villacis uses satire to denounce cultural imperialism. "I grew up with this theme that the native culture is oppressed, that native values, all the things that native culture produced aren't valued," he says, "So I thought, What could happen if it were the opposite?" Gallery director Bert Green adds, "Would it be all that different? The answer is probably no." Worth seeing -- for the concept.
photos: top Bert Green/bottom LA Frog