Why the Immigrants Come
The Maya and their culture are resilient, having survived 500 years of conquest and oppression. Maya people number approximately six million today, and are composed of roughly twenty-six distinct language groups. They continue to practice their traditional religion alongside the Christian and Catholic faiths. The artists represented here are Tz’utuhil and Kaqchikel, from the western highlands of Guatemala. Each of these groups gave rise to a tradition of contemporary painting starting in the late 1920s.
The works in this exhibition reveal the urgent crises that impel waves of refugees from Mexico and Central America to the United States border. Those who abandon their homes are fleeing political, criminal, and domestic violence; displacement by multinational corporations; as well as poverty and natural disaster. Many Americans are not aware of the United States' responsibility for many of these problems.
In Guatemala the Maya people survived a genocidal war from 1960 to 1996, which was largely funded by the United States. Currently, the Maya face brutal evictions of whole communities by multinational corporations seeking profits from mining and hydroelectric plants—as well as violent incursions by drug cartels. The Maya are struggling against forced use of genetically modified crops, and wanton pollution of their lakes and rivers. Maya women, like their sisters throughout Central America and Mexico, are struggling against rape, domestic violence, and femicide. Maya communities continue to fight for their human rights to land, food, water, and education. They have intimate knowledge of the suffering caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanos and floods.
All of these urgent problems are reflected in the paintings by the contemporary Maya artists exhibited here, who have personally experienced or witnessed these events. Their observations are creatively conveyed in the detailed, sometimes painful, images of war, violence against women, oppression, and poverty they have put to canvas. Still other paintings balance these grim scenarios by expressing the Maya people’s resilience and hope for a better future, through images which reflect their aspirations and determination.