What they brought back from abroad: Part Seven

Bringing history to life
Whitman Honduras items
Photo by: 
Janey Lee, Class of 2015
Being exposed to that type of culture, going from here to that, was more transforming than any of the artwork I was doing.

Our "What They Brought Back" series will look at eight students and the mementos they keep as reminders of the people, places, and experiences from their study abroad programs all over the world. 

Name: Jacquelyn "JD" Whitman
Class of: 2013
Major: Visual Arts
Location: Honduras
Program: Summer International Travel Grant
Best part of your trip in five words: Being alone in the ruins

Ancient Mayan ruins and hieroglyphics, unexpectedly colorful graveyards, lively children from the nearby village of La Pintada playing soccer, and vast mountain landscapes: these are only a few of the sights Whitman witnessed during her summer abroad in Copán Ruinas, Honduras.

As a Visual Arts major, she had a mission to help conserve the Mayan culture and language through art as well as to increase its accessibility, especially among the illiterate. She worked with Latin American artist Frida Larios via Skype. Larios is trying to preserve the ancient Mayan language and culture through the deconstruction and subsequent synthesis of hieroglyphics into purely pictographic forms, known as the New Maya Language.

In addition to the artwork, Jacquelyn was exposed to the significant impact drug trafficking had on the surrounding communities. "Being exposed to that type of culture, going from here to that, was more transforming than any of the artwork I was doing," she said.

Whitman Honduras items

What she brought back:

  • A sketchbook containing hand-drawn abstractions from actual hieroglyphics found in the Copán temple compound. "I took pictures of the plants and mountain ranges that you could actually see in the hieroglyphics, and I brought them back into what I have [in my sketchbook]. So it's kind of a deconstruction and restructuring of all of them," Whitman said.
  • Popul Vuh, a book that recounts the myth of the creation of the Mayan people. "All of the temples have an altar at the top of them, which is supposed to be representative of the cave, so that when the emperor stood up there, he was transformed into a god because he was in the underworld and the heaven and on earth," she said.
  • A yellow and green jade necklace in the shape of one of Larios's symbols, meaning rain. It was hand-chiseled by Don Mundo, a Mayan descendant and sculptor from La Pintada. "[La Pintada] is one of the only villages in Honduras that is still teaching Chorti Mayan to the children. It's basically one of the only surviving Mayan dialects because the government doesn't want them speaking it, anywhere. They are trying to ban it everywhere and they want them speaking Spanish because they don't believe in the religion that comes with Mayan history," she said.
  • A relic from the temple compound made into a necklace, given to Whitman by another young girl from La Pintada who stayed with her at the home of Larios's mother, Flavia. Flavia recently started a program helping the village children make corn husk dolls for tourists in order to provide a source of revenue. "She's the nicest lady ever. She's so funny," Whitman said. "I actually sent her a Christmas package."

Tagged: study abroad, What They Brought Back From Abroad