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The skeletons and skulls of Mexican folk art reflect the dualism fundmental to the pre-Hispanic world view. Without duality in all aspects of life, the universe loses its equilibrium. Animal and human forms; masculine and feminine energies - all are needed. Of all these balancing forces, perhaps none is more significant than that of life and death.

Images expressing dualities abound in Mexican folk art. The Nahuals of Oaxacan woodcarvers, for example, are supernatural beings that transform back and forth from animal to human form and from human to animal form. The belief in Nahuals is well-documented in indigenous folk culture. However, if a survey were taken among Mexico's folk artists, the combined imagery of life and death - la vida y la muerte - would emerge as the most popular and pervasive theme.

CLICK FOR ACCESS The iconographic image of the living and dead sharing a single body or head remains a common visual theme in Mexican folk art. The reason is simple: for the Mexican, life and death are part of the same linear process. Birth leads into life, and life leads to death. Join the ends of the process and the cycle of life is created.

The roots of this duality are ancient and deep. The Borgia Codex depicting pre-Hispanic life shows two gods: Quetzalcoatl, the god of life who governs the earth and sky; and Mictlantlecuihtl, the god of the underworld and keeper of the dead. They appear in profile, joined at the spine. At first glance, they seem a single form. Two distinct shapes then define themselves, one complementing the other and the two together forming a complete whole. Each, we learn, needs the other to justify its existence.

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