'Xipe Totec' – Mexico City, Mexico - Atlas Obscura

'Xipe Totec'

This neon installation is a tribute to a Mexica god, who gave his skin to humanity.  


Installed in 2010 as part of the 100th anniversary of the country’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), this pink and blue neon piece is the work of artist Thomas Glassford, a Mexico City resident born in Laredo, Texas.

It’s named after a Mexica (the pre-Columbian peoples better known internationally as Aztecs) god, revered for a legend in which he gave his skin to shelter humanity. His flaying is tied to the peeling of maize, with Xipe Tótec being a representative of both this staple crop and war.

Glassford saw the myth of this sacrifice as an opportunity for a work of art intended to cover all four sides of a rectangular building. The bicolor design’s geometry is an example of Penrose tiling, reminiscent of patterns common in Islamic art.

With its construction having been completed during the 1960s and a design inspired by the United Nations building in New York City, the tower was formerly the home of Mexico’s Secretariat of Foreign Affairs until 2006. A year later, it reopened as the University Tlatelolco Cultural Center (under management by UNAM). It houses “Xipe Totec,” as well as the Archaeological Museum of the nearby pyramids and the Memorial 68.

Know Before You Go

As a light artwork, "Xipe Totec" is best appreciated after nightfall.

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