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STANFORD -- An exhibit titled "Ulama: Game of Life and Death in Early Mesoamerica" will be on display June 21 through Oct. 2 at the Stanford Art Gallery. Also at the Art Gallery during that time will be "Around the World," an exhibit of prints, drawings and photographs by 19th-century artists.
Both exhibits are timed to coincide with the World Cup soccer matches being held at Stanford Stadium.
Ulama is one of several names for a ballgame with symbolic connotations that has been played in Mesoamerica since about 2000 B.C., according to Ruth Franklin, curator for the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the Stanford Museum of Art.
"Not only was it probably the world's first team sport, but it was almost certainly the first ballgame ever played with a ball that could bounce," Franklin said.
Most of what is known about this ballgame as it was played before the Spaniards arrived and recorded it has been learned from the carved architectural facades and decorated vases found in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, Franklin said. Hundreds of ballcourts dot the map of Central America, she said, and their walls and stairways show players in full regalia.
Thousands of stone objects have been excavated that are identified now as weighty representations of the waistbands, kneepads and other gear worn by the players in combat, Franklin said.
The Stanford exhibit will focus on these stone objects, with pieces borrowed from the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian Institution and several private collections.
The exhibit will offer several theories about how and why the game was played. There were rules, apparently not unlike those of soccer, Franklin said, as to which parts of the body a player could use to address the ball. Generally, a latex-rubber ball was to be propelled through a stone ring above the centerline of an I-shaped court, but the rules must have varied with time and place, Franklin said.
The exhibit will be at an introductory level. In addition to the stone examples of players' gear, it will include rubbings of some of the architectural elements that show what the players wore and how they approached the ball, as well as maps and photographs of ballcourts. Gallery panels will include commentary by an anthropologist, an artist and an art historian. Labels will be in both English and Spanish and there will be a bilingual handout.
The Art Gallery's regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The number of docent tours of the exhibits will be increased during the World Cup soccer matches to accommodate the crowds expected to be on campus.
Docents will offer tours at 11 a.m. June 21-24, June 28-July 1 and July 5-8; at 3 p.m. Saturdays June 25, July 2 and July 9, and Sunday, July 3 and at 11 a.m. Sundays June 26 and July 10. After July 10, there will be docent tours every Saturday at 3 p.m. until the exhibit closes.
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