Bilingual exhibit opens at WFU Anthropology museum

Painting on tin from Mexico, 1914, made in thanksgiving for José María Remedios' avoidance of injury in a horse accident.

Painting on tin from Mexico, 1914, made in thanksgiving for José María Remedios’ avoidance of injury in a horse accident.

“Tokens of Thanks: Ex-votos from Brazil and Mexico” (“Ofrendas de agradecimiento: exvotos de Brasil y México”), a new bilingual exhibit, opens Aug. 7 at Wake Forest University’s Museum of Anthropology.

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 15, features more than 100 “ex-votos,” objects made of wood, metal, wax and cloth by people during the 19th and 20th centuries afflicted by injuries, diseases or other problems in gratitude for healing. Labels for each object are printed in both English and Spanish.

“Brazil and Mexico have strong traditions of petitioning God directly or through the intercession of saints for relief from troubles,” said Stephen Whittington, director of the museum. “A petitioner typically vows to undertake a pilgrimage or to place an object that represents the problem in a sacred place in exchange for healing.”

The exhibit explores the process of petitioning to the supernatural, the ways in which people keep their vows, and the roots of ex-voto traditions in Catholic Europe, pagan Europe, the pre-Hispanic Americas and Africa.

Votive objects are known as “milagres” in Portuguese or “milagros” in Spanish, both meaning “miracles.” Some ex-votos are wood, metal, cloth or wax representations of parts of the body, often showing in detail what injury or lesion afflicted a person. Others are paintings on tin showing what events caused a person to seek relief.

Four free public events are scheduled in association with the exhibit. Dr. Linda L. Barnes, assistant professor of pediatrics and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine, will talk about “Sacred Reciprocity: Miracles, Sacrifices, and Vows” at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28. Families are invited to participate in fun activities at “Milagros: Symbols of Hope” on Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. Gloria Fraser Giffords, Tucson-based author of books on Mexican ex-votos, will present a talk Oct. 28 at 4 p.m. Fatima Bercht, chief curator at El Museo del Barrio in New York City, will lecture about Brazilian ex-votos at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 13.

The Museum of Anthropology is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call (336) 758-5282 or visit

Categories: Arts & Culture, Events