Genealogies of Modernity Episode 5: Picturing Race in Colonial Mexico


Race is sometimes treated as a biological fact. It is actually a modern invention. But for this concept to gain power, its logic had to be spread – and made visible. Art historian Ilona Katzew tells the story of how Spanish colonists of modern-day Mexico developed theories of blood purity and used the casta paintings – featuring family groups with differing skin pigmentations set in domestic scenes – to represent these theories as reality. She also shares the strange challenges of curating these paintings in the present, when the paintings’ insidious ideologies have been debunked, but when mixed-race viewers also appreciate images that testify to their presence in the past.

Researcher, writer, and episode producer: Christopher Nygren, Associate Professor, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh

Featured Scholar: Ilona Katzew, Curator and Head of Latin American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Special thanks: Elise Lonich Ryan, Nayeli Riano, Jennifer Josten

For transcript, teaching aids, and other resources, click here.

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