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Threads of Identity: Contemporary Maya Textiles

Threads of Identity: Contemporary Maya Textiles

20 November 2010 - TBD

Mint Museum of Art

Williamson Gallery


Click linked words below for definition and to hear the pronunciation 


Among the Maya, dress communicates one's place in the world, identifying such aspects as geographic origin or current community.  The Maya perceive each town or village as a unique social and political entity which is the foundation of life and which centers the person in the universe.  Maya peoples throughout Guatemala's Southern Highlands share a common history, social and religious ideology as well as languages from the same Highland Mayan linguistic family.  Traditional dress is the daily expression of their simultaneous communal and individual identities.  Each style pertains to the person's place of origin or identity yet also incorporates her or his own variant of dress. 



Map identifies towns and surrounding communities featured in the Threads of Identity exhibit



Maya traditional clothing, or traje , styles generally are divided along language boundaries.  This exhibit features Kaqchikel, K'iché, Mam, Tz'utujil, and Jakaltek from Guatemala, and Tzozil and Tzeltal from Chiapas, Mexico.  Within each group are variations that reflect the individual styles of towns and municipios (a group of socio-politically aligned villages or aldeas).  More subtle nuances characterize the distinctive dress of neighborhoods (barrios) within towns and aldeas.  Variations also reflect group status, identifying one's sex (Fig A, below), age group (Fig B) and marital status.  For example, widows typically wear darker colors and avoid the use of red (Fig C), and unmarried girls often wear intricately decorated clothing that highlight their personal pride and hardworking nature, indicating they will be good wives.

- adapted from "Threads of Identity: Contemporary Maya Textiles," Passionate Journey: the Grice Collection of Native American Art by Dorie Reents-Budet, Consulting Curator of Ancient American Art. 



Figure A

Typical male clothing; Mam, from San Martín Chile Verde, Department of Quetzaltenango, Grice Collection 2001.9.67.1-3

Figure B

Ixil girl's huipil (blouse); Ixil, from San Juan Cotzal, Department of El Quiché, Grice Collection 2001.85.6.1

Figure C

Widow's clothing; Kaqchikel huipil (blouse) from Santa Catarina Palopó, Department of Sololá, Grice Collection 2001.93.24.1

Many of the items in this exhibit appeared in the Passionate Journey: The Grice Collection of Native American Art exhibit, July 18 - October 17, 2009. For more information about the imagery appearing on the textiles and the textiles themselves, see print and online resources listed below.


Online Resources


Print resources available in The Mint Museum Library 




Search MARCO: The Mint Art Research Catalog Online to find more print resources available in the Mint Museum Library 



Created by Erin Mullen.  Intern for The Mint Museum Library