Xunantunich is a Mayan word that means “Stone Woman”. To identify the ruin known by the same name with a female personification was not typical of the Mayan culture as they did not assign gender to their temples. However, as with most, if not all the sacred structures, the focus was on the power to generate and re-generate , or the reverence for fertility. Sex and gender is the basis of procreation, and in fact, the most basic feature of any society intending to prevail.
Although this painting was not initially intended to turn ones thoughts toward fertility or the act of fertility, the bare breasts might suggest otherwise. When our family first came to Belize in 1973 from a very reserved, even prudish farming community in Western Kansas, we had never seen women in public with exposed breasts, even when nursing children. Such activities in our culture were done discretely and out of view.
This scene would be typical of activities at the gentle rapids in the Mopan River that rush past the village of San Jose Succotz. It was common for the Mayan women to gather at the river sans blouses, to bathe themselves and their children. They did their laundry and socialized, little noticing the gaping stares of foreigners unaccustomed to seeing such things. Never was there any thought of impropriety.
The washing of clothes, hair and bodies goes beyond a mere need for cleanliness. In the developed world, the above has somehow become aligned with and akin to procreation. “Sex sells” certainly applies to cleansing products of all kinds, even laundry soap. Tooth paste, shampoo, deodorant and hair care products are all marketed under the pretense that said product will render one more desirable to mankind in general and to the opposite sex specifically. Thus one becomes a more acceptable candidate for procreation.
Did I really have all this in mind when I did this painting? Certainly not; but as I comptemplated the meaning of the word “Xunantunich” I wanted to achieve my best illustration of Mayan women and then wouldn’t you know, these women are washing clothes on stones. Wow!! This is really coming together for me, the “Stone women”. Then, in keeping with the reality of the scene, of course, what artist can pass up a purely innocuous reason to paint the unadorned human form?
As I read about the Mayan emphasis on sexual symbolism associated with their temples I realized that times have not changed. Modern man is no less captured with the very same demonic devotion to sacrificing our young virgins on the altar of sexual obsession. This is not really the meaning of this painting. It is only an afterthought to an otherwise wonderfully innocent scene.