The interior of a ceramic bowl is painted in black-and-white showing a human figure with a bow and arrow and heron headress interacting with what appear to be the decapitated heads of animals.

Worlds Within: Mimbres Pottery of the Ancient Southwest



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While showcasing the extraordinary creativity of Mimbres pottery, this exhibition also acknowledges the challenges of interpreting these works today. 

Featuring over 70 of the finest examples of Mimbres ceramic bowls created in west-central New Mexico from about 1000 to 1130, this exhibition explores the possible meanings of pottery in the Mimbres culture from different scholarly perspectives. Often enigmatic to modern viewers, these vessels portray a wide variety of subjects, including geometric compositions, local plants and animals, scenes from daily life, and hybrid imagery that likely indicates relationships with other ancient cultures of the southwestern United States and Mexico. 

Interpreting these rich images and the vessels themselves, which carry significant funerary connotations, poses a challenge to scholars; research has been limited, and many sites have been destroyed over the past century. Worlds Within acknowledges this issue, presenting multiple ways of understanding the vessels’ painted scenes and functions. Through a combination of archaeological research and art historical analysis, this exhibition seeks to better understand the sophisticated and inventive ceramics produced by the ancient Mimbres people, whose art, lives, and spirituality were intimately connected to the natural world. 


The exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


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