Current Institutional Affiliation
Greenleaf Visiting Library Scholar, Art, Universiteit Leiden-Faculteit Der

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2006
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Art History, City University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center
Art and Identity in Colonial Oaxaca: Dominicans, Spaniards, and Mixtecs at the Convento of Yanhuitlan

The mission building campaign undertaken in Latin America on the wave of the Spanish Conquest was the largest evangelical and artistic enterprise in the history of the Church. In the tum of just a few decades Spanish mendicant friars, at the head of the missionary efforts, had established hundreds of conventos (missions) throughout the American colonies. These institutions, which did not merely accommodate friars, but were instead planned to carry out doctrinal, educational, and liturgical activities, soon became booming economic and cultural centers. My dissertation provides the first comprehensive study of the Dominican convento of Y anhuitlan in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. I will offer a critique of the current formalist approach to colonial art that grants separate attention to architecture, painting, and sculpture and will instead look at the convento as a whole: a privileged locus of power and cultural mediation between indigenous and foreign rulers, from the first embattled moments of the encounter to the centuries of coexistence that followed the conquest. I argue that the appropriation of Christian beliefs, imagery, and even pageantry was a conscious political strategy by local Mixtec rulers that guaranteed decades of unprecedented prosperity in the town. Local craftsmanship, revealed in textile production, painting, and sculpture was, on the other hand, readily adopted by the Spanish friars as a Mixtec vehicle for communicating Christian doctrine. Civic and religious ceremonies constituted the most fertile opportunity for cultural mediation throughout the colonial period. I will analyze religious practice as much a means of imperial policy as a negotiation of Mixtec ethnic identity. The arts of colonial Mexico were not a provincial reflection of a distant European taste or a sign of a fading indigenous culture, but the nexus of a global phenomenon of intercultural exchange.