Aztecs: Conquest and glory
Aztecs: Conquest and glory was an exhibition of treasured artefacts from Mexican museums, which brought the story of the Aztec empire to life.
Detail: Xochipilli – The Flower Prince. All images courtesy of Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes – Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Photographer: Michel Zabe.
Aztecs: Conquest and glory was an exhibition of over 200 treasured artefacts from Mexican museums that was shown in Australia and New Zealand between 2013 and 2015. The exhibition was designed to appeal to all generations, especially people who had limited knowledge of the Aztecs. It told the story of the Aztec empire up to the Spanish conquest in 1521. It brought history to life through exhibits related to religious beliefs and rituals; wars and conquests; royal power and family life; markets, trade and agriculture; the fall of the empire; and the legacy left by the Aztecs.
Mexico-based archaeologist Raúl Barrera Rodríguez selected the exhibits, some of which had only recently been excavated and were exhibited for the first time in New Zealand. The exhibits included luxury and everyday items, as well as large sculptures. Aztecs: Conquest and glory also featured multimedia projections, interactive audio-visual displays, models (such as a life-size model of an eagle warrior and a model floating garden, or chinampas) and a soundscape recorded in Mexico and featuring Nahuatl (Aztec language).
Almost 40,000 people viewed the exhibition at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Visitors took part in tours, talks and other events, such as an Aztec family fiesta that involved face painting, and creating masks, jewellery and mosaics.
Aztecs: Conquest and glory was developed by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and two Australian museums: Melbourne Museum and the Australian Museum. It was the second part of an exhibition exchange between Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Two years earlier, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa had shared E Tū Ake: Māori Standing Strong – an exhibition of almost 170 ancient and contemporary Māori taonga (treasures) – with Mexico.
This partnership between the museums is part of the desire that the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa has to attract exhibitions from new places (such as the Pacific, and Central and South America) and source exhibits directly, rather than from collections in bigger museums. As the Mexican government exchanges exhibitions rather than charging or paying fees for them, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa was able to host Aztecs: Conquest and glory, with support from New Zealand’s Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Wellington City Council, GNS Science and Visa.
Dr Lee Davidson (Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington) and Dr Leticia Pérez- Castellanos (Escuela Nacional de Conservación, Restauración y Museografía) studied the exhibition exchange that involved E Tū Ake: Māori Standing Strong and Aztecs: Conquest and glory. This led them to co-author Cosmopolitan Ambassadors: International Exhibitions, Cultural Diplomacy and the Polycentral Museum, which won the 2020 Miguel Covarrubias prize for best research in museums.
Published 02 November 2023
“The intimate connection between our lives and the everyday lives of Aztec people makes this exhibition so compelling.”
2013 to 2015
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