CSUN Art Galleries





CSUN Art Galleries

The San Simon: Manifestations of a Guatemalan Folk Saint exhibition features altars, figures, images, and masks of Maximon/San Simon, who is a famous folk saint in Guatemala. He is treated with deference by society due to his varied abilities to bestow misfortune and blessings on people. The exhibition is curated by Bill Mercer and Peri M. Klemm with the aid of students drawn from the Exhibition Design (Art 342/542). The exhibition features a number of acclaimed collections by Jeanne and Jim Pieper and presents a variety of guises and depictions of this syncretic folk saint. The exhibition coincides with San Simon’s feast day that is marked by offerings of incense, alcohol, clothes, candles, money, and food.

Saint Maximon or San Simon is a spiritual figure to whom all types of requests are brought forth. Petitioners are usually requested to pray only for good causes rather than to call upon evil towards others. San Simon is a collection of textiles woven together and topped using a hat and a life-sized figure with the face being hidden using a mask and exceptional designer sunglasses. In addition, he also has cowboy boots and silk scarves provided as offerings. Additional offerings such as incense are burnt while addresses in indigenous dialects from the Mayan group are made during the offering.

Addressing San Simon in Spanish reveals the Christian veneer. The name Maximoan is associated with the Mayan term for underworld deity ma’am referring to the “Great Grandfather”. The installation for the exhibition is a success as it provides the audience with an important platform to understand new aspects of the diverse Mayan culture.  The effigy of San Simon resides in different houses annually while moving in a procession during the entire Holy Week. Devotees during the rest of the period usually visit the effigy in his chosen place of residence with the shrine being attended to by two individuals drawn from the Cofradia with an aim of keeping the shrine clean and accessible. They are also tasked with passing on offerings brought by the visitors to the effigy.

The San Simon figure met my anticipations in terms of the level of spirituality associated with this effigy. Worshipers come to address the effigy using a variety of gifts that may vary from one individual to another. He is more of a bully, whom people avoid angering rather than a deity for worship. He is considered as the link between the underworld and heaven for all humanity. This is the primary reason that the figure has a central role in the Mayan culture as part of the deity.

The exhibition is effective in that it seeks to highlight the importance of the San Simon deity in Mayan culture. The exhibition provides accurate depictions of the character and adheres to set out guidelines for establishing a shrine for the deity. The San Simon figures are similar to what has been taught in the classroom. He assumes an important position in the Mayan culture. The presence of attendants and the issue of offerings are similar to what has been taught in class, given that they are issued with an aim of appeasing the effigy and pleading with various requests such as luck, housing, love, fertility, protection, justice, business affairs, revenge using evil spirits, spiritual cleansing and healing.

It is important to note that there are several San Simon figures, which differ from one another based on the region of origin of an effigy given that there are diverse communities that use similar effigies. However, they are all used for similar purposes, religious and spiritual roles in the different Mayan and South American communities. Easy accessibility of San Simon has resulted in the name “Hermano” given that he is available to all who seek his favor if they are equipped with offerings to meet their pleas for help.

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