Rufino Tamayo (1899 - 1991)

Figura prehispánica VI. Figura sonriente, Veracruz (1976)
Prehispanic Figure VI. Smiling Figure, Veracruz

Lithograph on paper
height: 56cm
width: 45.5cm

Donated by the Fundación Olga y Rufino Tamayo 1997


Figura sonriente is based upon a figurine from the Veracruz region of Mexico. Nude except for an elaborate headdress that resembles horns and a large beaded necklace, this figure stands energetically with arms raised and legs apart. The figure's jubilant expression and Gulf Coast origin place it within the intriguing 'Smiling Figures' style of Prehispanic Mexican art. The significance of these figures' mysterious smiles is unclear yet evocative. Although it has been suggested that they may be connected to a go d of dance and music, another interpretation is that they may be members of the cult of pulque, with their puffy facial features indicating that they are in a hallucinogenic stupor in preparation to be sacrificed. The heads of many of these ceramic figures have been recovered without their bodies, which may suggest ritual decapitation. As if in keeping with the ecstatic mood of the figure and its sacrificial status, Tamayo has painted a bright pink stroke down the centre of its body. As with the Xipe image of the series, the smiling figure is given a dramatic quality by the circular pattern surrounding it. Tamayo has skilfully used simple lines to indicate both the formal economy of the original piece and his own artistic expressiveness.

Terri Geis, 2008

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