Seeing Unseen Art in Ancient Mesoamerica, April 26, 5 PM

On April 26, Claudia Brittenham (University of Chicago) will deliver the annual Harvey Buchanan Lecture in Art History and the Humanities, titled “Seeing Unseen Art in Ancient Mesoamerica.”

Many works of Mesoamerican sculpture were difficult to see in their original contexts. For over three thousand years, from the earliest moments of Olmec civilization, around 1500 BCE, to the Aztec empire at the time of the Spanish invasion in 1519 CE, people in the region of modern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras made works of art whose initial conditions of display were radically different from the ways that we encounter them in museums or photographs today. Yet in order to understand these challenges to visibility, we have to consider visuality: the ways that ancient Mesoamerican people understood the nature of sight and the embodied process of seeing. The difficulty of seeing these visually elaborated things also focuses attention on the moment when they were visible: during the process of making, an act imbued with generative significance in many Mesoamerican cultures. This talk considers how works of art help us understand the dynamics of vision and power in Olmec, Maya, and Aztec societies.

Claudia Brittenham is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the art of Mesoamerica, with interests in the materiality of art and the politics of style. She is the author of Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica, as well as The Murals of Cacaxtla: The Power of Painting in Ancient Central Mexico; The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court: Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak (with Mary Miller); and Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color (with Stephen Houston and colleagues). Her next book focuses on the interconnectedness of the ancient Mesoamerican world.

The talk will take place on CWRU’s campus, at the Tink, in Ballroom A, at 5 pm. Reception is to follow.