The Feather Headdress of Ancient Mexico might visit its roots soon

penacho2 300x225 The Feather Headdress of Ancient Mexico might visit its roots soonThe feather headdress, commonly known as the Feather Headdress of Ancient Mexico – housed at the Museum of Ethnography in Vienna – is a cultural good that represents the feather craftsmanship of Mesoamerica, unique in that it evinces the quality and mastery of Mexican artisans.

Ancient prehispanic craftsmen created an art form out of garments and other objects made with feathers, which reflected the power of those who wore them or served as element in the offerings that played an integral part in the daily lives of prehispanic cultures.

Certain cultural goods become the legacy of a country and the ability of human beings to materialise the identity of a group or the sentiment of an era. One example of this is the Feather Headdress of Ancient Mexico which is deeply rooted in the Mexican identity of the 21st Century. It left national territory almost half a millennium ago and is one of the first witnesses of the encounter between two cultures.

The profound friendship and solidarity that binds Mexico and Austria, particularly after the former protested against the annexation of the latter to Nazi Germany – an important step that allowed Austria to regain its full independence after the World War II – gave way to fertile ground for the Mexican Government to suggest to Austrian Authorities a new focus on cultural cooperation. The main objectives of this renewed approach were to guarantee the proper preservation of the piece and to make it accessible to a larger audience, particularly those that maintain an emotional link with it.

With this purpose in mind, Mexico set out a new scheme of cooperation in 2007, which not only acknowledges Austria’s ownership over the Headdress, but also established the foundations for joint work on its preservation and the carrying out of scientific enquiries to determine the viability of transporting the piece and temporarily exhibiting it in Mexico City. This scheme also included an exhibition in Vienna of pieces belonging to Mexican museums.

penacho1 300x225 The Feather Headdress of Ancient Mexico might visit its roots soonThe first challenge for this bi-national group of specialists was the formulation of a preservation protocol for the Headdress, because its uniqueness makes it impossible to establish comparisons with similar objects. Examples of craftwork from the 16th Century are not strictly comparable, because they were made with different techniques.

A complete evaluation of the piece was made, which detected the physical and chemical alterations it has undergone during the past 500 years, as well as an analysis of the techniques that were applied in its fabrication. These enquiries revealed a surprising correlation with the description made in the 16th Century by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún in his work General History of the Things of New Spain, also known as the Florentine codex.

This unprecedented event allowed setting out a solid base from which to take the correct decisions regarding the Headdress’ preservation.

Thanks to three years worth of research headed by specialists of the National Institute of Anthropology and History and Mexicos National Autonomous University, we now have a precise account and a painstakingly detailed technical and historical analysis of the Headdress. These findings were compiled in a publication that was made public on the 14th of November at the Ethnology Museum of Vienna, coinciding with the return of the Headdress from Ancient Mexico to the public eye, after being kept behind closed doors for eight years. The piece continues to enclose precious information regarding our ancestral cultures. Its mysticism endures and will probably continue to do so, keeping it as one of the most symbolic objects for Mexicans.

An intense technical work and an arduous diplomatic process have been necessary in order to carry out this initiative. This is why Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs must continue to engage in constant dialogue with the Austrian Government and civil society. Many important figures from both the private and cultural sector have joined this cause. Thanks to the openness and goodwill of the pertinent Austrian Authorities we have managed to make important breakthroughs. The possibility for the Headdress to visit Mexico has never been so close.

The first steps have been taken and complicated machinery has started to move forward. The book’s publication and the exhibition of the restored piece are sufficient motives for celebration. However, there is still a long path ahead which will require a firm determination. For Mexico the objective continues to be the exhibition of the Headdress in national territory. I’m convinced that the appropriate conditions are present, in order for Austria and Mexico to make a relevant contribution to the preservation of our countries’ cultural heritage and to develop a new concept of cultural cooperation that is infused by a genuine universal and humanist notion, thus renewing our recognition of a shared past and a common future. Let us hope it shall be so.

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