'Asia in Ivory' – Mexico City, Mexico - Atlas Obscura

'Asia in Ivory'

Soumaya Museum

The collection of intricate sculptures includes one carved from a mammoth's tusk 


The private collection of Laura MacGregor is now housed in the Soumaya Museum. After the museum was first inaugurated, the institution was presented with some ivory pieces, including some depictions of Christ. In 2012, MacGregor donated her entire collection to the museum.

The sculptures are amazingly intricate—though they’re also controversial, given the devastating effect the ivory trade has on wildlife. Look at the collection, and you’ll see a Chinese puzzle ball. These “devil’s work balls” nested inside each other, making for a very tricky puzzle to solve. There’s also a piece made in 1960 during Mao’s communist China that shows an industrial scene, complete with Soviet trucks carrying wood to a sawmill.

You’ll also see impressive chess pieces, deities from India, and mythological characters from Japan and the Philippines. One person you’ll notice is Hua Mulan, the woman who, according to the Chinese ballad joined the army 1,500 years ago to defend the honor of her family. In the piece, she appears carved with her traditional dress and holding a bow and arrow.

Perhaps the most amazing piece is the one you’ll find near the exhibit’s entrance. “The Empress Mother” was carved in 2004 on a Pleistocene mammoth tusk. In it, a delegation of royal ladies follows the empress, who is about to cross the sea aboard a carriage pulled by dragons.

Know Before You Go

The exhibition is located on the first floor of the museum, but it 's best to visit during weekdays when there are fewer people.

In partnership with KAYAK

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