Decolonizing Taste: A Mesoamerican Staple In Colonial And Contemporary Art
Scoville, Sheila Layton
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In this thesis, the staple food of Mesoamerica features in a pair of comparison studies each containing two representations, one from colonial Mexico and another from the contemporary Southwest US. The association of the tortilla with indigeneity in these four representations signifies a sense of belonging and continuity for some, an inferior difference for others, and, for one artist, the burden of her ethnicity. In the Codex Mendoza of the sixteenth century and the collage Citlali: Hechando Tortillas y Cortando Nopales en Outer Space by Debora Kuetzpal Vasquez, the practice of making tortillas consecrates space as home for the image makers, who confront the potential loss of their culture to the emerging or ongoing forces of colonialism. While the codex blends Amerindian and European discursive modes to present a civilized Mexica society in the eyes of their colonizers, Vasquez selectively cites Indigenous tradition to express her Xicanx feminism and concern for the health of her community. The eighteenth-century casta painting, Indios Otomies que van a la feria by Juan Rodríguez Juárez, and the 1992 performance of Indigurrito by Nao Bustamante both conflate the tortilla with indigeneity, but to opposite ends. In Indios Otomies, the tortilla is a marker of los indios, whose subjugation and assimilation as workers sustained New Spain’s imperial economy. Through live performance and the consumption of a tortilla wrap, Indigurrito activates stereotypes to expose colonial desire in institutionalized multicultural initiatives. Since the implication of the tortilla’s Mesoamerican history depends on each artist’s relationship to coloniality, this study formulates a response to the question: Can cultural practices help to decolonize, and if so, what constitutes a decolonial aesthetics? If culture constructs a way of seeing that serves colonialist desire, cultural workers can contribute to the project of decolonization. The criteria of a decolonial project include the contributors’ acknowledgement of settler status and a tangible correlation to current Indigenous movements and a recuperation of land, life, and culture.