The Art of MESTIZAJE: Fusion in LATIN AMERICA

By Campbell, Paulette | Humanities, November/December 2003 | Go to article overview

The Art of MESTIZAJE: Fusion in LATIN AMERICA


Campbell, Paulette, Humanities


IN A PAINTING OF A CORPUS CHRISTI procession in Peru, descendants of Incan royalty wear native regalia and parade with Catholic saints. Korikancha Temple in Cuzco, once dedicated to the worship of the sun, the gods of thunder, and Incan rulers, is a Catholic church today.

Mestizaje, the fusion of European and indigenous cultures in Latin America, is a hallmark of colonial-era painting, architecture, and ritual objects.

A new website and DVD, Vistas: Colonial Latin American Visual Culture, 1520-1820, unites high-resolution color images with primary sources in Spanish and English, and interpretive essays. "Vistas will bring the best of the archive, the museum, and the lecture hall into the hands and onto the screens of college teachers and students," says Dana Leibsohn, an art historian at Smith College and project co-director.

Leibsohn is collaborating with Barbara Mundy, associate director of Latin American and Latino studies at Fordham University, to develop sections dealing with economics, iconography, and the historical meaning of Latin American objects and social practices. Music and video clips, bibliographies, timelines, and a glossary will provide context and suggestions for further research.

Vistas covers the period between the Iberian conquest of Latin America and the independence movement that would liberate all of the colonies except Cuba and Puerto Rico. "This period was the crucible for the formation of contemporary culture from Mexico to Brazil, from the Caribbean to the Andes," says Mundy. "During this time, lasting links were forged not only with Europe and North America, but also Asia and Africa."

In Corpus Christi Procession, San Cristobal Parish, a painting dated circa 1680, members of the parish of San Cristobal parade in a Catholic festival. Religious confraternities, religious orders, and the civil government follow a processional route toward the cathedral. Don Carlos Huayna Capac Inka, the cacique, or indigenous ruler of the region, is garbed in Quechua cloth worn only by the native elite.

The Corpus Christi painting is an important record of indigenous Catholicism and the hybrid of colonial religious practices, says Carolyn Dean, associate professor of art history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "Descendents of the Inca royal dynasty are shown in the painting in their capacity as leaders of the parishes of Cuzco," she says. "They wear royal Inca garments that have been modified according to Spanish tastes. For example, breeches have been added under indigenous tunics and lace sleeves have been added. They wear solar pectorals, which are a reference to the solar-worship of their royal ancestors. They are characterized in the painting as both rulers-they wear royal Inca regalia-and ruled-they escort Catholic saints-and are associated with both Inca and Catholic religions."

The commingling of cultures is also seen in the Caribbean zemi, a deified ancestor worshipped by the Taino, a group of Amerindians who inhabited the Caribbean at the time of the Spanish conquest. The zemi that appears on the website is two-faced-part bat, part human-and is made of local shell beads, glass mirrors from Europe, and rhinoceros horn from Africa. It was most likely created for a cacique, who would have had access to European goods.

In the first few decades after their arrival, Europeans collected zemis and sent them back home as curiosities; but they ultimately came to view zemiworship as an obstacle to the Catholic conversion of the Taino, and began to destroy the zemis.

"Making Sense of the Pre-Columbian," one of Vista's units, focuses on the ways in which people in the Americas and Europe collected, exhibited, and wrote about pre-Hispanic objects and sites. Antonio Leon y Gama's 1792 drawing of Coatlicuean Aztec goddess that symbolized the earth as creator and destroyer-is an example of how the interpretation of an object shifts with the political climate. …

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