The eight Guatemalan artists who make up the world-renowned Kaqchikel Maya ensemble Grupo Sotz’il got their start in the art world through an untraditional-traditional path, so to speak.
As teenagers feeling disconnected from their Mayan heritage, they sought out grandparents, elders with ancestral knowledge, in their village of El Tablón, Sololá, about 150 miles northwest of Guatemala City.
Soon Grupo Sotz’il was born. That was in 2000, only four years after the end of the Guatemalan Civil War that spanned 36 years. More than 200,000 people died in the war—the vast majority Maya.
More than 80 percent of those killed were of Mayan descent and more than 90 percent of the human rights abuses were committed by the state against its people, according to la Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, an independent commission that documented the war’s human rights violations. Large numbers of people were forced to flee their homeland.
Finding their path
Setting out to rediscover their Mayan identity, these young artists “found art in their path,” says Daniel Guarcax, spokesman for the multidisciplinary group.
Now, 17-years later, they have grown into artists who use traditional arts and knowledge to take on society’s most pressing contemporary themes–issues as immediate as domestic violence and as global as climate change.
Over the years, the Grupo Sotz’il has developed what could be called “cultura viva.” As Guarcax explains, they create “living culture” powered by ancestral knowledge but not constrained by the strictures of folklore or nostalgia for bygone eras. It is art designed to evolk thoughtful reflection and empower positive change.
Watch the video
We caught Grupo Sotz’il performances at the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Watch this video interview by Hola Cultura’s Paula Góngora Salazar
At the invitation of the D.C.-based International Mayan League, they gave performances and led youth workshops in September as part of the League’s Restoring Our Ancestral Knowledge project. The project uses art to help young immigrants and refugees in the Washington-area tap into their millennia-old cultural heritage in order to find the strength to build new futures far from home.
The group’s Washington tour was funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and partial support from the Sacred Fire Foundation for workshops with local youth at the Dance Institute of Washington.
—Hola Cultura staff with additional reporting by Pavithra Suresh