Ancient Kingdoms – Hidden Realms

Peyton Wright Gallery is delighted to announce Ancient Kingdoms, Hidden Realms, an exhibition highlighting Mayan and Khmer kingdoms through an extraordinary marriage of pre-Colombian and Asian artifacts and luminous black and white images of forgotten Mayan and Khmer ruins captured by photographer William Frej. The exhibition features an artist’s reception on Friday, August 4, 2017 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., and continues through September 30.

“Look this way” is the soul’s summons to wonder. Every child knows the call. It is the insistent whispering voice of curiosity within that leads us, ultimately, to care about all that is mystery. From the periphery of our mind’s eye, through the haze of everyday distraction, we catch glimpses of the tantalizing unknown. For some, these fragmentary sightings of the possible ignite an unquenchable desire to know. Their search begins in an instant, and may last a lifetime.

Time lays a blurring tint over fact. What is known slips from mind to become the past falling into rank with the rest of rumor we recite as history. The recipe for concrete, one of man’s most durable and serviceable discoveries, forgotten, though the Roman aqueducts stand in evidence of its durable reality. Sometimes things are lost until mankind’s relentless search for reason sweeps back and restores the fact of past truths with rediscovery of ancient culture. We find sites filled with articles that demonstrate the ancients’ fascination with ritual, beliefs, and the arcana of daily life. Sites that lay hidden until lit by the accidental turn of a spade. Even then, meaning, the realm of understanding created and inhabited by the original believers, along with what they felt and were animated by, remains obscured under time’s forgetful sediment.

Still, through all of history, the common thread of wonder, expressed in reverence for objects, persists. Evidence of ancient fascination with surprise and beauty, the effort to reproduce the stars as jewelry, the night sky as diaphanous cloth, are here on display in the gallery. Elements of the magnificent assembled as city-scale monuments to the power of deities demanding worship surrounds us in the art of daily articles, furnishings, objects of worship, wardrobe and adornment that that are the fundamental landscape of this show. Here we have assembled a trove of object and image that invite you to speculate, admire, and rejoice in the primal human fascination with mystery as you stroll the rooms.

Bill Frej, the renowned photographer, began following that flicker of something he saw in the corner of his eye when he first ventured into the Yucatan in 1971. As a student of architecture and photography he became entranced with the mystery embodied by the ancient monumental structures hidden deep in Mesoamerica’s jungle vastness. He had so many questions. Who were these people? What was the dimension of their society, their beliefs, their own sense of purpose? Such depth to the unknown.

But before they could begin to be answered, life intervened. And took him to Asia where he worked and wandered absorbing the river of culture that flows endlessly across millennia of accreted memory over vast plains, mountains, and river deltas. Asia, where he and his wife spent 430 days on foot traversing the Himalaya following a mutual desire to connect spirit and purpose.

Forty years on he returned to the cradle of his inspiration. There he spent three years penetrating remote jungles and the forgetful gauze of experience to document the wonders of ancient Mayan development in the Yucatan, Chiapas, Quintana Roo and Campeche obscured and consumed by the careless evolution of the Lacandon and Peten jungles.

Ultimately the impulse to follow the renewed scent of mystery led him to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, where he stood beneath the massive sculpted ramparts of a citadel to ancient worship, and recognized he had come full circle. There, surrounded by exquisite, carved testimonials to the passion inspired by devotion, he understood the stark similarities between the ancient impulse to worship, know, and be dazzled by mystery in the jungles of Cambodia, and its direct and deep human connection to the remnants of that same universal impulse he had witnessed as a young man wandering among the impenetrable forest canopies of deep, ancient Mexico.

Capturing the essence of that sense of mystery, striving to create a visual portal through which the rest of us can step into the presence of that state of suspended disbelief he experienced in two centers of ancient culture separated by oceans of space time and meaning is what Bill’s photos do.

At a scale we can understand, in a language of image we cannot escape the depth of, Bill’s extraordinary black and white works summon us in the ancient manner to: “Look this way”, and wonder.

As in last year’s exhibit, “The Maya”, we invite you to take a leisurely wander through the gallery. It will reveal the intimate relationship between Bill’s stunning images and the collection of ancient art and cultural objects, ceramic, textile, wood and stone, etc., that are the body of art produced by these and related ethnic cultures.

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About the Artist
William Frej began his career as an architect and later served as an international development specialist, living in Nepal, India, Indonesia, Poland, Kazakhstan, and Afghanistan over a period of 27 years. Always with his camera at his side, he has been photographing indigenous people and their environments for over 40 years, documenting the changing lifestyles and architecture of many of the world’s unique and ancient cultures.

The photography captures both the stunning high peaks and remote mountain ranges of Asia, as well as the living cultures and religious ceremonies in the faraway regions of the Great Himalayan Range, the Ghats of Varanasi, India, rituals in Guatemala and Mexico, and the stone monuments of Cambodia’s Khmer. Frej’s transcendent photography will transport the viewer to these places of mountain grandeur and still vibrant religious practice.

Frej and his wife Anne first visited Nepal in 1981 on a month-long trek around Manaslu, the eighth highest peak in the world. Inspired by the practice of Tibetan Buddhism they encountered in remote mountain villages, this trek led to a lifelong quest, documenting both the world’s highest peaks, as well as the resilient people living throughout the roof of the world.

They returned to Nepal in 1982, and in 1985, they took a two-year sabbatical walking to the base camps of the world’s highest peaks. Starting in the mountains of northern Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, the Frej’s walked over 3,000 miles on their personal pilgrimage through Pakistan, India, Nepal and Tibet. Throughout this sojourn, Asia’s highest peaks and their outposts of remote civilizations and religions provided a wealth of subject matter for photography, documenting peaks, people and ceremonies seen by only a few.

Their quest continued over next three decades, until the present, returning to the Himalayas many times, living in Central Asia and Afghanistan, and documenting not only mountains, but ancient religious ceremonies that still define a way of life for Asia’s Hindu, Bon and Buddhist peoples. Frej’s June of 2018 visit to the Indian Himalaya retraced the steps of India’s devout holy men, the Sadhus, to Gaumukh glacier, the source of the holy Ganges, and continued through Ladakh, visiting 24 remote monasteries and participating in ceremonies at Lamayuru and Hemis Monasteries.

Frej has also spent considerable time the past five years documenting both the religious rites of Mexico’s indigenous communities and the contemporary Maya, and the ancient cities their fore-bearers so skillfully created over a millennium ago. His images of Semana Santa, Dia de los Muertos and the Feast Day of San Ildefonso transport us to a place that imbues strong transformational power.

In 2014, his one-person photographic exhibition Enduring Cultures was featured at Galeria La Eskalera in Merida, Mexico. It included black and white and color photography from Afghanistan, Upper Mustang, Nepal, and San Agustin Etla, Oaxaca, Mexico. His photography was featured in a major exhibition which opened June 2015 at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, titled Tradicion, Devocion Y Vida: 80 years of Black and White Photography in New Mexico and Mexico. His photography on Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico was exhibited October-December 2015 in a one-person show at Peters Projects Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A number of his photographs were exhibited at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in their exhibitions Chimayo: A Pilgrimage through Two Centuries and Mirror Mirror: Frida Kahlo Photographs, in 2017. He was selected to participate in an exhibition titled Faith in New Mexico at Editions One Gallery in Santa Fe.

Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has mounted several major exhibitions, including: The Maya, Photography by William Frej, 2016, of 32 large-scale, black and white photographs of Mexico’s remote, off-the-grid Mayan ruins; Ancient Kingdoms, Hidden Realms,2017, an exhibition highlighting the Mayan and Khmer kingdoms; Ritual of the Cora, 2019, documenting the Holy Week ceremonies of the Cora people in the Sierra del Nayarit, Mexico; Maya Ruins Revisited: In the Footsteps of Teobert Maler, 2020, a unique pairing of archival material with Frej’s current imagery of the same locations; Seasons of Ceremonies, 2021, chronicling religious rituals in Yucatán, Chiapas, and Oaxaca, Mexico and Rabinal, Guatemala; and Travels Across the Roof of the World, 2022, with his wife Anne Frej, chronicling a sweeping yet intimate view of the breathtaking peaks, splendid valleys, and extraordinary people of the Himalaya.

Frej’s photographs were also featured in one-person exhibitions, Nomads of Kyrgyzstan in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 2008 and Himalayan Pilgrimage at the Museum of Asia and the Pacific in Warsaw, Poland in 1998. His photographic work Taninbar to Tibet was featured in a one-person show at the Duta Fine Arts Museum and Gallery in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1991. Mr. Frej’s other exhibitions include the Tucson Art Center in 1972, The Eye Gallery in San Francisco in 1977, and the San Francisco Arts Festival in 1976 and 1977. His photographs of Peru received purchase awards from the San Francisco Arts Commission and the San Francisco Arts Festival in the 1970s.

His photographs of the Himalaya, India and Africa were featured in the Edwin Bernbaum book, Sacred Mountains of the World and his photographs of India’s Tilwara camel fair were highlighted in Adventure Travel Magazine. Mr. Frej’s photographic work is represented in numerous public and private collections throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.

He is represented by Peyton Wright Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

His book of black-and-white photographs, Maya Ruins Revisited: In the Footsteps of Teobert Maler (Peyton Wright Gallery, 2020), has won sixteen awards. His second book, Seasons of Ceremonies: Rites and Rituals in Guatemala and Mexico (Museum of New Mexico Press, 2021), has won thirteen awards including four “photography book of the year” awards and the Gold Medal Best Photography book for 2021 from Foreword Indies/Foreword Reviews.

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