Alicia Salazar performed a ceremony at the art gallery opening with her Mayan Danza group. Photo by Alejandro Rosas.

Incense smoke filled the air of Galería de la Raza Thursday night as traditional Mayan Danza dancers blessed 20 youths who had completed a 15-month workshop on Mayan art and culture.

For the occasion, part of “Mundo Maya 12:12:12: A Celebration of the Mayan Culture,” the gallery’s white walls were adorned with colorful Mayan-inspired art created by the young people and their instructor, lead artist Roberto Y. Hernandez.

For Hernandez, the workshop was a vehicle for instilling an appreciation for Mayan art — and for life itself — in the young participants.

“This body we have is a miracle and a gift. I taught them that. I taught them to appreciate this gift and to enjoy this journey,” Hernandez said.

It took time for Hernandez to realize the gift himself. Growing up in the Mission, he was scolded in school for speaking Spanish in an era when “you were either white or black,” Hernandez said. It wasn’t until years later, when he was a young adult, that his grandfather urged him to go back to his roots and travel, to see the gift of life for himself. So he set off, traveling extensively through Central and South America, eating off the land and generosity of others while learning about indigenous art and technique.

“I started to learn who I was,” Hernandez said, surrounded by the community he loves and the paintings of his students. “I was proud about my nose. I was proud to be brown.”

Ramon Thompson, 18, one of Hernandez’s students, posed proudly next to his painting of an ancient Mayan ball game as his picture was taken by family and friends.

“This [workshop] taught me a lot,” Thompson said. “I didn’t know anything about the Mayans but now I know how important and intelligent they were. I also learned a lot about myself.”

The students painted a variety of Mayan art, from calendars to gods, animals and altars. They also painted the much-discussed Mayan calendar that has recently fueled predictions of the end of the world.

Ivan Barriga, one of the workshop participants, said that claims that the Mayan calendar points to humanity’s demise are inaccurate.

“It’s just a big change,” he said. “It’s a rebirth and a celebration of a new calendar, a rebirth.”

In fact, this is the end of the fifth Mayan calendar.

The Mundo Maya exhibition “seeks to frame the end of this calendar year with a shift in consciousness, rather than the apocalyptic vision of the end of the world that mainstream media has capitalized on,” according to the gallery’s website.

Barriga started painting two years ago, beginning with graffiti and street art, then moving on to murals and, recently, canvas. His art combines new culture with old culture in an effort to “take Mayan art and make it my own,” he said, glowing from the experience of his first art gallery exhibit.

Mundo Maya at Galería de la Raza will run through Dec. 29. Events include a maize ceremony, a culmination of the Mayan calendar ceremony and a cacao celebration.

For a complete list of events, click here.

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  1. I also think art should take priority over the apocalyptic visions. The end of the world must be only a joke. 🙂 I just read a list of events organized in Toronto and some of them will take place after the controversial date. For example, my children would never forgive me if I had to cancel our visit of Disney on Ice. 😀