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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.

Poporo Representing a Female Shaman Holding Gourd-Form Poporos

10 1/8 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Alfred C. Glassell, Jr.

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

Arts of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean

The greatest artworks of the Quimbaya culture were gold poporos, containers that held powdered mineral lime to be chewed with coca leaves in order to induce trances. This shaman poporo possesses a calm expression with eyes narrowed in trance.

A seated pose was considered one of authority, reserved for shamans and rulers. Quimbaya artwork is unique in depicting women in positions of power. This female shaman holds a gourd-form poporo in each hand. Some poporos took the shape of gourds, which may have had associations with fertility.

From 1 to 1600 AD, the Quimbaya culture flourished in the Andes Mountain valleys of present-day northwestern Colombia. They excelled in lost-wax casting, a process by which an object was first sculpted in wax and a ceramic mold was made. The wax was then melted and drained, and hot liquid gold was poured into the mold. Once cool, the mold was cut away. The resulting cast-gold object was polished to a satin sheen. Quimbaya gold work is known for its beautiful surfaces and use of alloys.