Exhibitions: Life, Death, and Transformation in the Americas

Life-Death Figure

This sculpture of a man carrying a human skeleton on his back exemplifies the dualism of life and death that permeates Huastec and Mexica (Aztec) art. Representing life, the human figure is the Aztec wind god, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, who created humankind and is identifiable by his J-shaped ear pendants. Representing death, the skeletal figure (not pictured) with a protruding heart wears a collar and skirt decorated with a half-circle motif that was associated with the sun and the planet Venus. Venus, called the morning star, was another important god, thought to pull the sun across the sky and down into the underworld. Densely patterned designs on the sculpture’s arms and legs include ears of corn, which, like the sun and Venus imagery, are related to agriculture, fertility, life, and death.