KAANCAB: Archivo de arcillas

BY Lorena Ancona, | POSTED IN All Projects, Caribbean, Mesoamerica

KAANCAB es un proyecto que busca profundizar los conocimientos locales sobre los recursos naturales del Sureste de México, con un enfoque en las arcillas de la zona Maya.


Nuestro nombre se inspira en las palabras Mayas K´aan (amarillo) y Cab (tierra), pues así se le llama tradicionalmente a las tierras que tienen cualidad arcillosa en la región de Quintana Roo, rica en arcillas amarillas.  


El proyecto archivo de arcillas tiene un interés antropológico, arqueológico y artístico enfocado en el estudio de arcillas y tierras locales, al igual que en su clasificación, resguardo y la producción de cerámicas. A partir de estas actividades se desprenden otros intereses, incluyendo la investigación de técnicas de producción de origen prehispánico con la participación activa de la comunidad local. Se espera que este trabajo colaborativo aporte para la construcción de la identidad de comunidades de la península de Yucatán y regiones Mayas contemporáneas.  

Tepacan es un tipo de arcilla de la región de Campeche, foto por Lorena Ancona


The project has two phases: 

  • The first phase involves the construction of the work space.  
  • The second stage is to organise the necessary equipment and acquire raw materials. The location of the workshop will be in Southeastern Mexico within the state of Quintana Roo, bordering the Akumal community, inside of a jungle nature preserve. The architecture of the laboratory will be sustainable, generating renewable energy with solar panels, dry toilets using stone and wood, privileging the use of natural sunlight. 

The projected activities include gathering and experimentation with different types of clays, research on Maya blue pigment, as well as other naturally occurring pigments. This knowledge will be compiled and integrated into the initial stages of experimental ceramic production.  

We are interested in recognising each material’s individual value, whether that be the particular qualities of a clay or soil deposit. The project also considers the practical value of its use, avoiding homogenisation or duplication between material use and application. In the same way, the study of ceramic styles that continue to exist in the Maya area enriches our knowledge about the technological and artistic origins of this culture in terms of clay usage, and other natural resources since pre-Hispanic times. 

In order to become familiar with the materials, it is necessary to work with them and study their behaviour. For this reason, we will work model the ceramics following the common techniques of slab building in conjunction with other decorative techniques used since pre-Hispanic times. In this creative production process, we seek to avoid the mass production associated with the tourist art market. We aim to promote the importance of the creative process through historical and cultural understanding. The project explores the human connection to the materiality of clay, and an understanding of the plasticity of the material. 

One of the local activities that inspired us to create KAANCAB is the current artistic practice that exists using clays and soils from the Tepakan area in Campeche. Although the clay used by Ticul potters in the State of Yucatan is extracted from Tepakan, very few inhabitants of Tepakan continue to produce traditionally crafted ceramics. In the interest of maintaining the continuity of the knowledge of the last traditional potters in the area, we held a workshop to revive ceramic practice and to re-establish social and labour relations that existed in the past. For example, the relationships between those people who collect firewood, those who have the knowledge of burning it for coal and those who have access to clay. 

In conclusion, KAANCAB tries to demonstrate how the study of the past and its material culture traditions can be relevant to contemporary communities. This project promotes the creative creation of Maya material culture through a multidisciplinary prism that combines ethnographic methods, natural sciences and archaeology. Although the Southeast of the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo have been strongholds of Maya resistance and a continuous source of ancestral cultural knowledge, KAANCAB is one of few notable attempts to combine heritage research with contemporary art practice.