With CU help, Latin Americanists converge in Boulder
New Mexican santos are forms of religious art commonly thought to signify the Spanish influence on the indigenous people of the Southwest.
But Claire Farago and others contend that santos have long been seen through a Western lens that may obscure a fuller understanding of the art. She says the art reflects interactions of different cultures, and that santos may have different meanings to different audiences.
The work of Farago, a professor of art history at the University of Colorado, formed the basis of an award-winning book—“Transforming Images: New Mexican Santos In-Between Worlds.” That work was the subject of a symposium in a five-day conference focusing on Latin American Studies.
The 57th annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies convened in Boulder last month with support of the University of Colorado.
Bob Ferry, a CU associate professor of history and president of RMCLAS, notes that the annual conference is the largest gathering of Latin American scholars, whose importance is sometimes overlooked.
The five-day event included 60 sessions and 220 participants, many from CU.
Ferry noted that CU’s hosting the conference was significant in part because this year is the centennial of the Mexican revolution and the bicentennial of Mexican independence.
“Transforming Images” was co-authored by Farago and Donna Pierce, the Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum. Eleven scholars contributed chapters from disciplines including archaeology, ethnomusicology, art history, anthropology, genealogical history and genetic science.
This broad range of disciplinary views helped frame new perspectives about “the way in which ethnicity and cultural production are always mediated,” Farago says.
After more than a decade, the book was finished, and Farago submitted it for CU’s Eugene M. Kayden Book Award. “If you win it, you get to do a whole lot of work to organize a symposium to criticize your book,” Farago notes.
For the Latin Americanist conference, Farago and Pierce did just that, facing a panel of seven scholars who critiqued the work.
Additionally, three major Latin Americanists and Renaissance art historians came to the conference to give Kayden Book Award plenary papers on their own research, which explores many of the major issues addressed in “Transforming Images.”
Those scholars were Dana Leibsohn of Smith College, Jeanette Favrot Peterson of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Samuel Edgerton of Williams College. Leibsohn could not attend, but her paper was read by Farago and Pierce.
Farago notes that the book had deep roots: “The project grew out of my classroom teaching, and over 70 undergrad and grad students were involved in developing the research, which also resulted in an exhibition (with the same title, ‘Transforming Images’) held at the Colorado University Museum in 1998.”
The book was written collaboratively in an attempt to think about cultural interaction in what is now the American Southwest between indigenous people and European settlers, who interacted intensively through their daily lives for several centuries after the first colonists arrived in 1580, she says.
Current scholarship on Latin American art has evolved from that of earlier generations, which tended to believe that there was one correct interpretation of art.
Under that earlier approach, “Art becomes something that you evaluate. Do you like it? Do you not like it?” Such metrics were indices of value.
Today’s scholars employ a “different relativistic epistemology,” she adds. “Lots of different cultures did meet,” and the resulting images reflect pieces of each culture, not just the dominant one.
“That interests me a lot,” Farago notes.
Like Ferry, Farago emphasized the value of the annual conference of the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies. In such conferences, she notes, scholars present research that hasn’t yet been published, and they trade ideas.
“It’s absolutely vital for the humanities,” she says, adding, “It’s a nice place for graduate students to present their first papers or second papers.”
Ferry, meanwhile, chaired a panel discussion on the Inquisition in colonial Latin America, a topic he has studied extensively. Ferry has studied the persecution of Mexico’s crypto-Jews, who were arrested and sometimes executed for practicing Jewish “heresy” in the 17th century.
Those Jews maintained their religious practices secretly, but they were sometimes unmasked because of their refusal to eat or drink chocolate, the newly popular beverage, during Yom Kippur and the fast of Esther, for instance.
Because the church kept extensive records on those persecuted during the Inquisition, the historical record of Mexican crypto-Jews is particularly detailed, Ferry notes, adding, “The richness of the record is beyond comparison.”
Ferry is working on a book about the Inquisition in Mexico.
The conference was supported by the dean of CU’s College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Department of History and Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
May 3, 2010