Las Hondas Guatemaltecas: The Malleson Collection

14 July - 21 October 2022 London
Dr. Andrew Malleson owns the largest collections of Guatemalan slingshots in the world. He began growing his collection of slingshots (or, las hondas Guatemaltecas) in 1970 on a trip to Guatemala to bring medical supplies to remote villages. Since then, he has fastidiously collected hondas on annual trips to Central America and has amassed an unmatched collection of over a thousand. Hondas are handheld slingshots used to kill small prey at close range. Often made from wood, bone or horn, they are intricately carved to resemble figures, animals, fruit and vegetables, saints, musical instruments, monsters, and other peculiar objects. Designed to fit in the palm of a hand, hondas are usually around 15cm long and support detachable rubber slings attached to leather pouches from which a missile or stone is projected.

Despite the fact hondas function primarily as weapons, they are highly decorative; expertly carved, usually painted or stained, and sometimes adorned with glass eyes and beads, these small yet deadly weapons are often considered art objects in their own right.

Dr. Malleson’s extensive collection is remarkably comprehensive with his hondas reflecting an eclectic range of subjects, materials and designs from numerous regions of Guatemala, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. Due to their personal use in rural contexts, the artistry of the honda is often dependent on the interests and skill of its artisan maker. For example, hondas produced across different regions by craftspeople might illustrate local folklore, animal species, or cultural practices.

In conjunction, the ubiquitous use of hondas across Guatemala and Antigua encourages the depiction of broader themes amongst makers - such as conflict and war, mythology, religion (Mayan and Catholic iconography), and other cultural practices. Popular figurative representations include Jesus, the Mayan hero, Tecun Uman, and the Catholic/Mayan saint, Maximom. As such, Dr. Malleson’s collection offers a unique reflection of Guatemalan culture over the last 175 years.