MAYA: The Exhibition is a trip to the jungle

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MAYA: The Exhibition. // Photo by Pierson Kubel

The Auschwitz Exhibit at Union Station was a unique moment in Kansas City. In a collective moment of clarity, the entire metro was buzzing over the moving, enveloping, gruesome, horrific—and ultimately—important display. After such a breathtaking experience, the city shared collective anticipation for Union Station’s opening of MAYA: The Exhibition.

Focusing on the history and culture of the Mayan people, MAYA impresses throughout with its exceptional ambiance. The darkened rooms are pierced by illustrations projected onto walls, floors, and display cases. The air is filled with sounds of rustling jungle leaves and running water.

One room is surrounded by deep green rainforest shrubbery pressed against the white, glazed glass. Another has a trio of neon pink and purple pyramids, flanking the viewer with light and information. The design of the spaces which encompass MAYA is simply top-notch, creating an inviting atmosphere that feels dreamlike, interpretative, respectful, and grounded.

The artifacts on display highlight the craftsmanship of the Mayan people, who created art and tools that inspired modern designs. Small pendants carved in the shapes of dancing monkeys; stunning jewelry made of shells and polished jade; a massive sculpture of a jaguar-masked warrior crawling on the floor. Around every turn, new pieces of history reveal a civilization of unfathomable advancement and aesthetic clarity.

Despite the artifacts, models, and museum labels describing Mayan agriculture and horology, an ever-present layer of mystery looms over the exhibit. Historians and archeologists are still finding Mayan cities and decrypting characters of the language, leaving guests with an insatiable curiosity. To remedy this, MAYA: The Exhibition puts a strong emphasis on interactivity.

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MAYA: The Exhibition. // Photo by Pierson Kubel

Whether it is walking one’s fingers up the steep model stairs of a Mayan temple or grasping the cool surface of a chunk of unprocessed jade, MAYA asks visitors to connect with the past through the sense of touch. The hands-on experience helps to humanize history, taking it from behind constrictive museum glass and placing it within reach. 

While the exhibit is firmly rooted in ancient discoveries, MAYA goes out of its way to connect attendees to the Mayan people of this day and age. Small screens are scattered around the exhibit and feature a range of modern Mayans describing each display and facets of ancient Mayan culture. Their insight gives context to the artifacts all around while reiterating the living history behind each piece.

The final room of the exhibit trades artifacts for modern pieces, giving a snapshot of the Mayan art and culture alive in modern-day Mexico and Nicaragua.

MAYA: The Exhibition is a colorful trip into the jungle, creating a mysterious ambiance that entrances attendees as they analyze works influenced by an ancient quotidian. The exhibition cannot answer every question we have about the Mayan people. But it does present the ingenuity and resourcefulness humanity was once capable of, and that we should be so careful not to destroy.

Categories: Culture