The history of woven textiles as a highly regarded, refined art form in Latin America spans 12 millennia. Physical evidence includes fragments of cloth and rope found in a Peruvian cave dating to about 10,000 BCE, and pieces of woven cords and mats made by the Olmec between 2,500 and 1,200 BCE along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Although organic fibers degrade and colors and patterns fade with time, many ancient works of art in clay, stone, and other more durable materials depict textiles in vivid detail and provide important information about early styles, symbols, and significance.
In addition to serving practical purposes such as clothing, warming, covering, and carrying, ancient textiles conveyed complex sacred and secular meanings. To this day, traditional textiles communicate information about the age, gender, marital status, ethnicity, and social rank of their wearers. Weavers are held in high regard in Mesoamerica and the Andes, as skilled craftspeople connected to the ancestors through their art form. Weaving cooperatives have been formed to preserve and pass on to future generations the weaving traditions. Even so, commercially made fabrics and garments are increasingly favored for their availability, style, and ease of care.
Through a selection of objects depicting how textiles were worn in ancient times and the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary textiles, this exhibition examines continuity and innovation in the forms, motifs, materials, and meanings of textiles and related prestige objects from the Maya region of Mesoamerica and the Central Andes region of South America.