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[BKARTS] Mayan Hearts

Is it possible that there is anything new to learn
about the heart? New insight comes to the 21st Century
from ancient voices who recorded their thoughts over
400 years ago. "Mayan Hearts" is a recent publication
that combines the scholarship of Robert M. Laughlin, a
Smithsonian anthropologist, linguist and Mayan
scholar; the artistic vision of Naúl Ojeda, a
Uruguayan artist with over 40 years experience cutting
printing blocks; and the production genius of Ámbar
Past and Taller Leñateros in Chiapas, Mexico, the
paper and book cooperative that has been producing
publications inspired and crafted by indigenous
communities since 1975.

The concept for Mayan Hearts was born when Robert
Laughlin discovered a unique copy of a lost colonial
Spanish-Tzotzil dictionary at Princeton University.
The dictionary was created by an unknown friar who in
the late 1590's set out to find native translations
for over 10,000 Spanish words. As Laughlin explains in
the introduction, the friar "found in Tzotzil
?infinite expressions derived from this word, heart.?
He learned that the heart was the seat not only of the
soul and of emotion, but also of thought, of judgment.
Everything we call ?human? was there in the heart.
Only under Spanish rule did the mind become divorced
from the heart and set in the head."

Laughlin has collected 19 of the heart metaphors and
for each one the author gives English versions of the
expressions from the friar?s dictionary, followed by
the original Tzotzil, and below that, a literal
translation of the Tzotzil phrase. For example:

Fall in love: Xk?uxub kolonton
"My heart aches"
It?s hard to imagine anyone but Laughlin tackling this
project. He has studied in the Mexican State of
Chiapas for over forty years and has published two
Tzotzil dictionaries and several books on Tzotzil
culture, botany, and history. He co-founded and is the
literary coordinator of the Tzotzil-Tzeltal Maya
cultural cooperative, Sna Jtz?ibajom.

Throughout the book, the late Naúl Ojeda?s imaginative
block print-inspired illustrations swim around and
about the text. Gate-folds and moving parts are
sometimes necessary to contain the swirl of hearts,
birds, bugs, lovers, suns, and graphic patterns. The
titles on the table of contents page radiate from a
rotating heart. The discovery that Be Wise (Tz?ib
kolonton) can be translated "My heart is a book" is
partnered with an illustration that opens into a
heart-shaped book-within-a-book.

Ámbar Past and the tireless hands at Taller Leñateros
have crafted a powerful presentation. The finished
book is 9"H x 11 1/4"W and has 150+ pages (depending
on how the foldouts and other surprises are counted).
The covers are boards wrapped with pitch black paper
made from maguey fibers brewed with mistletoe to keep
the shaggy filaments from shredding. A heart shape has
been cut out from the cover and the passionate red
endpaper glows through the opening. The text pages
were offset-printed on an old Multilith press that
was, according to Laughlin, "giving off heartbeats as
it printed." The illustrations have been silk-screened
in bright red and black and the scent of the ink
lingers on the pages.

I have followed the progress of "Mayan Hearts" and
have seen two early proto-types, so I know the vision
and revision that went into producing this book. From
start to finish, every nook and cranny of this
publication has been carefully considered and
thoughtfully executed.

The book is available as "Diccionario del corazón" in
Spanish-Tzotzil and as "Mayan Hearts" in
English-Tzotzil. There are 500 copies of each version.
The cost is $100 and at the moment there is no charge
for postage. I understand that "Mayan Hearts" will be
featured in the February issue of Smithsonian
Magazine. Orders can be sent to:

Robert M Laughlin
Department of Anthropology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution
10th and Constitution Ave., NW
Washington DC 20560-0112

If you can get to Mexico City on Valentine?s Day,
February 14, Diccionario will be presented at the
Teatro de Bellas Artes by the actress Ofelia Medina
and the historian Carlos Montemayor. There will be a
skit by Teatro Lo?il Maxil (Monkey Business Theatre)
and music by Zinacantec flute and drum. It is sure to
be una gran fiesta.

For more information on Taller Leñateros you can visit
www.artistbooks.com and select "Links" or go directly
to the page at:


Ed Hutchins

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