From Stone to Skin: Sacred Aztec Tattoos

From Stone to Skin: Sacred Aztec Tattoos

These Aztec tattoos depict deities that were associated with human sacrifice and the harvest season.

The indigenous art of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica is currently experiencing a revival in the most unexpected of places — tattoos. A select few artists are attempting to resurrect the eroded imagery found on temple walls throughout central Mexico by creating Aztec tattoos. This small movement, which goes by the name “neo-Azteca,” is growing in both size and popularity, and because of it, the gods of old have been reborn on people’s bodies.

Prior to the Conquest of Mexico by the conquistador Hernán Cortés, cities like Tenochtitlan were home to the greatest wealth of art in the New World, but most of it was systematically destroyed. All the gold was melted down and sold, but some Aztec art was immune to the Spaniards’ fire — statues of their gods.

In Aztec mythology, spirituality was thought of in terms of binary relationships — fire and water, earth and sky, night and day, etc. For the Aztecs, all of existence was viewed as duality. For every deity of death, like Mictlantecuhtli, lord of the underworld, there was a god associated with life, like Tlaloc, the bringer of rain. Their entire civilization revolved around this polemic conception of the divine.

Two tattooists in particular have been the driving force behind resurgence of Aztec iconography — Pedro Alvarez and Goethe Silva Mier. Alvarez has devoted the majority of his career to creating incredibly vibrant renditions of the gods. Goethe, on the other hand, uses his ability to make stonelike black and grey realism to recreate the carvings found inside temples. He has also recently started to incorporate colorful figures from the only Aztec codices to survive the colonial era. Other artists, such as Alan Padilla and Angel Antunez, have joined the effort, executing Aztec tattoos in their respective styles, to help ensure that these gods never die.

To see more Aztec tattoos, make sure to venture on over to these tattooists’ Instagrams. Should you want to honor the gods as well, get a depiction of a deity like Quetzalcoatl from one of them to help carry pre-Hispanic art into the new millennium.

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