The Aztecs were arguably best known for their rather brutal practice of pleasing their gods by offering human sacrifices on the awe-inspiring pyramid structures at Teotihuacan, in what is modern-day Mexico.
Teotihuacan, which means “where the gods were born” is also the name of an exciting new exhibition running at the Musée du Quai Branly through January 24. It features more than 450 items, the majority directly from Mexico.
The show is a well-rounded collection of artifacts covering many different aspects of life in the Aztec city. It begins with video footage to set the scene, depicting the ruins of the city and examining the temples and other structures of Teotihuacan. It’s a great way to gain an orientation to the site and makes looking at the artifacts far more satisfying.
The video also does an excellent job of explaining and deconstructing sometimes difficult aspects of Aztec art; there’s even a great interactive learning tool for kids, although the grown-ups seemed to be enjoying it just as much.
As far as the artifacts go, daggers used in the human sacrifices bring a macabre edge to the exhibition, while the curved serpentine pieces of shiny obsidian highlight the artisan side of Aztec life. A skull statue with a protruding tongue (from the Pyramid of the Moon) also makes a perfect exhibit that’s unmistakably Aztec. There are also some wonderful human figurines in greenstone and eye-popping decoration on jars and baskets.
For foreign visitors, the labels and notes, which are almost exclusively in French, reduce the enjoyment of the show. When you consider that this is a celebration of another culture, the monolingual nature of most of the information seems a little incongruous. I hope the museum will make audio guides in several languages available in the near future.
Diego Sapien, the coordinator of the exhibition, says the aim here is to make visitors feel as though they are able to actually step into Teotihuacan, because the displays touch on all aspects of life there. He also hopes the exhibition will encourage visitors to travel to Mexico to explore Aztec culture in even more depth. If I was not already convinced to visit the site of these ruins before, I certainly am now.
The museum is closed Mondays. The Café Branly is nice for a snack, and the restaurant on the rooftop, Les Ombres, is all the rage, but very expensive for dinner.