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This book honors Eloise Quiñones Keber, a longtime professor of pre-Columbian and colonial Latin American art at the City University of New York. As an art historian with a background in literary studies, Quiñones Keber has combined the analysis of visual material with a critical approach to written sources (e.g., Quiñones Keber 1995; 2002; Nicholson, Quiñones Keber, Anderson, Dibble, and Ruwet 1997). During the critical moments of the encounter, conquest, and colonization of the indigenous peoples of the American continent, the intersection between written and visual sources became crucial given the specificity of European and local American cultures. As a group, these essays make the case for the importance of visual culture in the study of American indigenous societies. While most of the contributions that follow focus on interactions during the colonial period, pre-Hispanic and post-Independence examples contextualize such activities within the broad range of indigenous American history.

Mesoamerican peoples may be considered the only ones in the hemisphere who developed unique systems of communication akin to a Western idea of writing, as demonstrated by pictography in the so-called ‘codices’ from central Mexico and the glyphs from the Maya area. In fact, the large production of colonial pictographic manuscripts that combine alphabetic and iconic scripts constitute a separate chapter in the discussion of early modern indigenous expressions, to which Quiñones Keber has dedicated much of her research, as indicated above. Visual culture at large, however, still represents a somewhat neglected vantage point from which to study and analyze American indigenous cultures and their transformations in the aftermath of the European conquest in the early sixteenth century. Oftentimes, images are considered a mere by-product or reflection of socioeconomic and cultural developments to be analyzed chiefly through written sources. On the other hand, the essays in this volume argue that visual expression is a primary vehicle for conceiving and exerting agency, especially in the study of so-called subaltern groups that have traditionally only limited access to the main and institutionalized means of history-writing, such as chronicles and other similar genres. Attention to visual and material culture thus offers a critical counterpoint to the dominant narrative expressed in historical sources produced under colonial rule, which generally adhere to external, especially Spanish, canons. Visual culture also complements information derived from archaeology, which is centered on the study of material culture, and indeed connects history and archaeology by giving equal weight to historical sources and material evidence (e.g., Gell 1998; Moxey 2008; Joyce 2015).

By considering visual expressions as complex and important as textual sources, the authors here bring to the fore the agency of indigenous peoples in pre-Columbian American history, who have traditionally expressed themselves by means other than written texts. At the same time, the long history of often violent and destructive interactions between indigenous peoples and later settlers calls for a diachronic approach to the changing relationship between sources and images. Given the cultural diversity of the American continent, one must recognize first the deep and entrenched relationships among the various inhabitants in the hemisphere in order to appreciate each culture’s distinctive accomplishments. This recognition further requires consideration of the indigenous peoples as well as Spanish, British, French, and Dutch impositions in the colonial era, along with African and Asian presences and, lastly, the neo-colonial burden of a modern globalizing world. History, and one’s position within it, is a crucial hermeneutical element in cultural interpretation and critique (e.g., Jansen and Pérez Jiménez [2011, 181–216] for Mesoamerica and the study of Mixtec codices). Sources, whether indigenous or adapted, written, oral, or pictorial, historical or contemporary, establish an interdependent relationship with the subjects studied, since objects and sources simultaneously illuminate and question one another.

Following Dean and Leibsohn (2003), the authors also call for an approach to the arts and material culture inclusive of those manifestations that at first glance do not seemingly display indigenous elements. Recognizing the complexity of American indigenous societies thus inevitably involves acknowledging that ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural differences were the norm rather than the exception in the hemisphere. European, African, and even Asian influences became interwoven with the indigenous presence, and that connection can be found in the objects studied, whether in their production, diffusion, consumption, or subsequent re-appropriations. These interpretative stages also contribute to the ongoing discourse on indigenous heritage up to the present day (Londoño Díaz 2019).

The case studies discussed by Keith Jordan, Alessia Frassani, Lawrence Waldron, and Mary Brown from pre-Columbian Mexico, Caribbean, and Peru propose analytical methodologies suited for the complex iconographic and visual communication systems developed before the contact with Europeans. They propose interpretative frameworks that can be applied to indigenous visual communication systems even in later periods. Texts and images in pre-Hispanic America merged in an ‘art of memory’ (Severi 2015) that is specific to the indigenous peoples of the hemisphere. With the establishment of the colonial order, this system adapted to the new circumstances, which led to the creation of ‘hybrid’ forms, such as colonial Nahua pictography (Angela Rajagopalan), enconchado paintings, or mother-of-pearl inlaid images (Miguel Arisa), and the Cuban architectural bohío (Lorena Tezanos Toral). Most of the essays consider indigenous agency within the larger colonial system imposed by the Spaniards in the mainland as well as the British and Dutch in the Antilles. Even in the case of enslaved black peoples (Tezanos Toral, Elena FitzPatrick Siffords), the agency of the colonized can be recognized in the material culture and images produced alongside or in spite of the established narrative of the colonizers (Orlando Hernández Ying, Ananda Cohen-Aponte, Jeremy James George).

Jordan’s ‘Flower Mountain in Pre-Columbian Querétaro?: Iconography of a Toltec Monument from El Cerrito’ deals with issues of style and iconography in a coherent set of images from central Mexico from the Classic through the Postclassic periods. Frassani’s ‘Divination, Ceremony, and Structure in the Codex Laud’ offers a new reading of the unique structure, iconography, and calendrics of a religious manuscript of the Codex Borgia Group from the Mixteca-Puebla horizon. Rajagopalan’s ‘The Devil You Know: Pictorial Representations of the Devil and the Demonic in the Florentine Codex’ then probes the attribution of European devil imagery to pre-Hispanic gods and other figures in the Florentine Codex, a manuscript produced in the conventual school of Tlatelolco (Mexico City) in the second half of the sixteenth century. In the following essay, Arisa’s ‘Luminosity in Enconchado Paintings: Pre-Hispanic and Viceregal Conceptions of the Sacred’ studies prestigious artifacts from New Spain—oil paintings with inlaid mother of pearl (enconchados) that highlight artistic roots in pre-Hispanic and Asian techniques and symbolism as well as the complex exchanges of materials and ideas characteristic of the globalized Iberian world and local colonial society.

The following two essays bring the focus to the Caribbean and diverse European and African presences there. Waldron’s ‘The Strings Attached: Problems in Integrating the Study of the Ancient Caribbean’ directs attention to longstanding historiographic problems that archaeologists as well as art historians face in dealing with the divisiveness and insularity of the modern Caribbean, in apparent contrast to the interdependency of the pre-Hispanic past. Tezanos Toral’s ‘The Cuban Bohío: History, Appropriation, and Transformation’ next focuses on a specific contribution to native Caribbean architecture—the Cuban bohío—relying on material, visual, and literary sources that highlight the mutual influence of Taíno, African, and Spanish presences in the main Antillean island.

The Andean area is represented by a group of essays that begins with Brown’s contribution to the pre-Columbian era of Paracas, Peru, ‘Picturing the Bird in Paracas Textiles: Images from Avian Narratives’, which highlights the continuity of avian representation and significance from the early period of the Andean past to more recent and historically documented cases. FitzPatrick Sifford’s ‘Indigenous Artists and the Representation of Africans in Colonial Peru’ considers the view of Quechua artists on the African presence in the colonial Andes. Orlando Hernández Ying’s ‘Andean Cosmology in the Angel Series in the Viceroyalty of Peru’ consults indigenous and European sources to investigate the uniquely Andean images of militant angels in colonial Peru and Bolivia. Cohen-Aponte’s ‘Imagining Insurgency in Late Colonial Peru’ relies on original documents related to the Tupac Amaru rebellion of the late eighteenth century to reconstruct the contested role of images during the tumultuous period of Andean history that preceded Independence. Lastly, George’s ‘Thinking in Stone: Re-presenting the Shape of Inka Culture Today’ reflects on the living heritage of Cuzco and contemporary impositions on the historical Inca capital, geared towards new and fantastical interpretations of its mythical past devised to support tourism.

References

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