My posts are slowing down because I’m finishing up work on preparing illustrations for the forthcoming catalog of the Bonampak murals. It’s another one of those projects that I am trying to wrap up before I go to Korea for a year. It has a long way to go.
The Maya mastered their own painting language with its own clever conventions–particularly when it comes to representations of the space a figure inhabits. The murals at Bonampak were worked on (never completed) when its painters could take advantage of the best materials and techniques. They were preserved by accident; Bonampak is a remote and small site as far as Maya sites go.
The documentation of the murals has seen many assistants, and I can’t help but feel that I am reaping the benefits of decades of work. (Really–DECADES–only my boss knows who worked on what over the years).
It’s a lot of pressure to be working in Photoshop, deciding how the murals will be represented. The murals are fully integrated with the architecture that houses them, and I have to make these paintings into images, that can be more easily studied.
I know from a visit myself last summer, that it’s not easy to get to them to study them. It involves many buses and random vans. Even when I was there, I had to beg the guard to see room 2 (which was being worked on) while the archeological team was at lunch.
Maya painting and Precolumbian art were probably the subjects I took the most classes about in school. I love many things about it: painters were valued by their society, that society was really advanced and complex–and we know this from their art and architecture. We know that the historical record that the Maya left– like the Romans’– was an actively re-written one. They used painting and sculpture to help convince people of any given history. Just think–what if artists were perceived as being an integral part of society? Where they were revered, mythologized, trained?
What if we started wars and really killed one another until we left only our art?
It worries me to distort and flatten the paintings as “scenes.” It takes away from their physical properties and how people continue to experience them (in poor light, in uncomfortable postures, humidity, and supervision) today. I worry a lot things exist in the world. What ethics are there to digital conservation? Of course, I’m not unsupervised–there is a limit to the damage I could go. But even if what I end up assembling is “sanctioned” it doesn’t mean that it won’t involve compromises to the original work.