What's Behind the Smile?

The so-called Smiling Figures from the Remojadas region of Veracruz are often regarded as expressions of Mesoamerican humor. These hollow ceramic sculptures are thought by many to be associated with a god of dance, music, and joy. Another compelling interpretation, however, relates them to a cult of pulque, an intoxicating beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant.

SMILING FIGURE, Mesoamerican, 7th–8th century, ceramic and pigments (collection: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The animated faces, puffy cheeks, and swollen protruding tongues are regarded as evidence of intoxication. The figures may depict ritual participants, or even sacrificial victims. The survival of many more smiling Remojadas heads than bodies suggest to some a possible ceremonial decapitation and destruction of the bodies. This bare-chested figure, with open mouth and filed teeth, stands energetically with legs spread and arms lifted as if caught in mid-motion. The garb of this celebrant consists of circular earrings, a beaded necklace and bracelet along with a loincloth decorated with laterally symmetrical patterns.

On his cap are ollin symbols, a sign for movement of the earth. This sculpture evokes a festive dance or ritual accompanied by the rhythmic reverberation of the hand-held rattle and celebratory sound escaping from the figure's open mouth. Take a closer look at this smiling sculpture here.

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