The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Mock museum show in favor of Aztecs

Imagine Columbus being arrested by the Aztecs and charged with “lack of appropriate feather ornamentation and unlawful use of body hair,” or a cult called Christianity where its followers sacrificed their God to eat his flesh and drink his blood in a weekly ritual called communion or the construction of a pyramid dedicated to the Aztec God Huitzilopochtli built over the remains of the Vatican.

These are just some of the revisionist ideas brought to life by Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Villacis in “The Art of Smoking Mirror,” a mock museum installation at the Bert Green Fine Art gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Villacis presents a different interpretation of the fate of the Aztec Empire and a revision of 500 years of American and European history.

The exhibit centers on a fictitious interpretation of the Aztec colonization of Europe. In Villacis’ reversal of history, Europe is considered the New World to the Aztecs, who name the conquered continent “Amexica,” referring to that which is not Mexico.

Villacis created “Smoking Mirror” for his master’s thesis at Cal State Fullerton, where he recently earned an MFA.

The installation is set up as a narrative to describe the first contact between both worlds, the improvement to weapons, colonization and daily life in old and contemporary “Amexica.” To support his twist on history, Villacis presents various documents, artifacts and paintings in a museum setting where accompanying captions add context to the artist’s work.

“Universally, people are very curious about the what if (?) and to imagine (history) having gone a different way is fascinating to most people and brings out a whole series of ideas, both amusing and serious,” gallery director Bert Green said.

Villacis’ installation touches on issues like racism, religious beliefs and power. In “Construction of Pyramids Over Rome,” men are used as overworked slaves while the powerful hand of an Aztec holding a gun frames the edge of the drawing. The caption to the artwork reads that it was “made to dismiss rumors of brutal use of labor during construction methods. As seen, standard working procedures were used.”

Villacis’ background in illustration and comics is evident. In “Apocalypse,” a drawing of a “U-rop” native is seen pointing toward distant unknown ships perceived as the “Army of God” coming to punish them. Using charcoal on board, Villacis exaggerates the facial features of the man in “Apocalypse.”

The same caricature style can be seen in “Pope at Cathedral,” where the Roman Catholic Pope’s nose is almost as big as his chin.

Villacis’ distinction between those who conquer and the conquered can also be observed in his use of color. While vivid colors are used to represent the Aztecs not only in the paintings and drawings, but also with the clay sculptures of the Aztec pistols and helmet, most renderings of the conquered people lack color.

Villacis’ use of irony, sarcasm and humor to get his point across, and the exhibit’s storyline, are just as fascinating and entertaining as the actual made-up pieces.

“It’s good that you can look at these things and think of them in a way that is not totally political,” Green said. “Yet, it’s very political and it’s entertaining at the same time.”

What the world would look like had the Aztecs conquered Europe is unknown, but Villacis gives an interesting reinterpretation of history. He is currently working on an illustrative graphic novel as a continuation of the exhibit’s theme that will include additional illustrations.

“The Art of Smoking Mirror” is currently on display at the Bert Green Fine Art gallery, 102 W. Fifth St. in Los Angeles, until March 24.

There are three scheduled appearances by Villacis on the last two days of the installation. For more information call (213) 624-6212 or visit the gallery Web site at

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