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Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

Works of art from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean range from ancient cultures to cutting-edge artists of today. Among the highlights are the Glassell Collection of Pre-Columbian Gold and the museum’s growing collection of modern and contemporary art by Latin American and Latino artists.

Bowl with a Killer Whale Deity
100 BC-AD 700
Ceramic with slip

4 1/2 x 15 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Samuel Merrin in honor of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.'s 90th birthday

Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, & the Americas

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

Killer whales, found in the seas off the coast of Peru, are cunning and powerful hunters. This bowl depicts a killer whale deity with human arms in addition to fins, representing the fearsome strength of natural forces that had to be appeased by sacrifice.

The Nasca culture lived on the south coast of present-day Peru from 100 BC to AD 700. They produced amazing textiles that were preserved by the dry desert climate. The Nasca are also known for bright polished ceramics and the giant geoglyphs they carved in the sand, which have remained etched in the landscape for more than 1500 years. The taking of enemy trophy heads was popular in many Pre-Columbian cultures, but the Nasca are especially known for their trophy-head cult. They believed that the blood of trophy heads nourished the earth and helped plants to grow. The killer whale deity was important to this cult. Although the deities were often depicted with human hands holding trophy heads, in this image the hand is empty.