Southern Utah Museum of Art hosts Michael Plyler’s “Highland Maya of Guatemala”
“La Hermana de Gaspar” by Michael Plyler, courtesy of the Southern Utah Museum of Art

Written by Ashley H Pollock

Southern Utah Museum of Art will host an extensive exhibit titled “Highland Maya of Guatemala” featuring the photographs of Michael Plyler May 4 through July 1 with an artist talk May 4 at 6:30 p.m. These black-and-white photographs are taken with traditional film and developed in an old-style wet darkroom. The exhibit and the talk are free and open to the public.

This exhibit incorporates 56 images of people and cultural icons in the Guatemalan region and is arranged by the language that is spoken in each area. Each image transports you to a village that brings to light the daily lives of these people. The images were taken in the early 1980s through the 2000s.

“These portraits span some sixteen trips over the course of twenty-three years,” Plyler said. “As such, they serve as a record for tradition and traditions changing.”

Plyler’s extensive knowledge and research into the lives and heritage of the Mayan people reflects greatly in the capturing of these stunning pieces. He shares that information throughout the exhibit, which also resides in the permanent collection of the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

He received a commission from the Guatemalan Tourist Institute in 1983 and was a recipient of a Visual Artist Fellowship from the Utah Arts Council in 1993. In 2010, Plyler and writer Logan Hebner published “Southern Paiute: A Portrait” through Utah State University Press. As the current director of the Zion Canyon Field Institute, Plyler also serves as the Institute’s photography instructor. His work is represented by the LaFave Gallery in Springdale.

“All these visits to Guatemala bear witness not only to my recording of the Mayans’ everyday lives, but my evolution as a photographer as well,” Plyler said. “My initial vision, almost exclusively in color, shifted almost exclusively to black and white by 1984. I progressed from 35mm through medium format to large format (4×5). Along the way, I taught myself the intricacies of Ansel Adams’ Zone System.”

The museum is open October through May from noon to 6 p.m. and June through September from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Free parking is available at the corner of 300 W and University Boulevard. Experience the traditions of the Guatemalan people when you visit the Highland Maya of Guatemala exhibit. For more information, please visit suu.edu/suma.

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