Two Mexican activists infiltrated the Weltmuseum in Vienna last week, swapping its audio guides for their own hacked versions to protest the history and ownership of the headdress of Moctezuma.
In the modified audioguide, Xokonoschtletl Gómora, a descendant of the Aztecs who has repeatedly called for the crown to be returned to Mexico, describes the artefact’s arrival in Vienna as “a consequence of the European looting of the historical heritage that is exhibited in various museums on that continent such as Austria, France, Spain, England and Germany”.
He adds that “Kopilli Ketzalli [the Aztec name for the headdress] is a precious royal crown, not a plume. It means spiritual power. It is like the Pope’s miter […] The history written by Hernán Cortés speaks of an emperor who prostrated himself at his feet, but the truth is that it was an invasion that exterminated an entire civilization”.
Sebastián Arrechedera, a documentary maker, and Yosu Arangüena, a publicist, managed to sneak their audioguides into the Viennese museum by swapping headsets in the toilets over a period of a few days. Admission to the museum is free for Mexicans as a “courtesy”.
Arangüena tells El Confidencial newspaper: “Since we couldn't steal the audio guides, because that's where we would get into a problem with the police, we brought our own audio guides. We bought them and we have ‘given’ them to the museum.”
Requests to return the crown, said to have been worn by the Emperor Moctezuma, have so far been turned down over claims that the delicate piece would not withstand the vibrations of the transfer of the trip and would be destroyed.
A spokeswoman for the Weltmuseum says: “The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico, together with the Weltmuseum Wien, has conducted rigorous research into the conservation status and history of the headdress. One of the main results of this Mexican-Austrian research is that the object cannot be moved, as transporting it would cause massive damage. We are keeping up with the latest technological developments. But at this time, technology does not offer a way to transport the feather headdress.”
However, Gómora’s recording concludes with him saying that “we do not believe in the version, nor in the supposed truths and facts of so many years”.
How the ancient relic made its way thousands of miles to mainland Europe is still unclear. Many historians assume that it was a gift from Moctezuma himself to the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes, who later sent it to Emperor Charles I of the Habsburg House.
The Weltmuseum spokeswoman says it welcomes “the artistic intervention” as an “interesting contribution to the current discussion about postcolonial heritage in ethnographic museums”, adding that there is “no request for the return of the headdress to Mexico”.