A surrealist painting of five bats in various poses against a beige background

Murciélagos (Bats) (Study for El mundo mágico de los mayas)

By the early 1960’s, Leonora Carrington’s career in Mexico was flourishing, and she was awarded a prestigious government commission to paint a mural for the new Museo Nacional de Antropología, which opened in 1964.

Entitled El mundo mágico de los mayas, hers was destined for the section in the museum dedicated to the state of Chiapas, and to that end she traveled there in 1963 to study the region and its peoples. In San Cristóbal de las Casas she stayed with the Swiss anthropologist Gertrude Blom, whose fieldwork focused on the Lacandon Indians who lived in the area. Through Blom she was introduced to two Chiapas curanderos (healers) from the village of Zincantán (called the “House of Bats”) and, although wary of foreigners, they were so impressed by her knowledge of and respect for traditional healing that they allowed her to attend some of their ceremonies. During a six-month period Carrington executed many preliminary drawings of the villagers and also of the animals at the zoo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. When she returned home she began to study the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the ancient Quiche Maya, in order to understand better the preconquest beliefs of the Chiapas Indians, descendents of the ancient Maya. In spite of the fact that Carrington in general tended to avoid the constrictions of commissions, previously had little interest in depicting Mexican scenes, and had never painted anything of this size (the mural is 213 × 457 cm), El mundo mágico de los Mayas presents a sweeping, vibrant panorama of the material and spiritual life of Chiapas. The composition is clearly divided into celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean realms where mythological entities animate the landscape, Catholic processions take place next to indigenous healing and animals energetically cavort, moving with ease between realms. Here the past and present, the sacred and the secular, and the seen and hidden co-exist and co-mingle as they are viewed through Carrington’s visionary filter.

Susan L. Aberth, Leonora Carrington, Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, 2010, pp. 97-102
Leonora Carrington, El mundo mágico de los mayas, 1964

More Works by Leonora Carrington