Blog

Art of the Skull: There is no way of knowing

By: Evi Oetomo, Category: At The Museum, Date: 09 Dec 2014

A blog series with stories from the artists, designers & illustrators involved in the contemporary pop up gallery in the Aztecs exhibition.

Art of the Skull: There is no way of knowing #3

Art of the Skull: There is no way of knowing #3
Photographer:  © Evi Oetomo

I was about to fly overseas for a wedding when Amanda Teer, curator of the pop up exhibition, sent me an invitation to contribute skull artworks to accompany the Aztecs exhibition recently held at the Australian Museum. Even with a considerably tight deadline, to have my pieces displayed on the same wall as artists I've admired was an opportunity not to be missed!

I brushed up on my Aztec knowledge and read extensively about how the skull has become a trademark icon in the South American region. There are so many interesting facets to Aztec history, from their iconography, craft, religion, prophecies, even taxation! A book designer by trade, working for Lantern Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, I tend to spend a lot of time researching subjects before diving deep into the creative work.

For this exhibition, I decided to create an artwork based around the Aztecs’ rack of skulls, known as tzompantli, which roughly translates to ‘skull banner’. Tzompantli are traditionally comprised of a wooden framework supporting skulls that have been skewered on horizontal poles run through holes drilled through the temples.
Sometimes this structure was made of stone with carved human skulls. It could serve to honour a god, or be used as a war token boasting of an Aztec’s conquest.
While a lot has been written about the structure as a whole, it was unclear whose skulls could, or could not, belong to a tzompantli. The skulls used could be paupers or kings, there is no way of knowing. And I kept carrying that little curious thought around in my head.

The artwork is a response to that thought. I created many rows of skulls but only one stands out in gold foil. I also used gold foil as a literal reference to the Aztecs appreciation of gold and copper value. I've also created a series of single skull drawings, this time just because I could not stop drawing skulls! Following the skull commission, now I'm back to drawing still lives and landscapes, and designing a range of exciting illustrated books.

Find more works by Evi O. on her website and instagram @evi_o .

Evi’s interview with The Design Files gives further insight into Evi’s background and process http://thedesignfiles.net/2014/09/new-kids-on-the-blog-evi-oetomo/