Claudia BrittenhamMar 24, 2023
Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica
University of Texas Press 2023
In Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica (U Texas Press, 2023), Claudia Brittenham unravels one of the most puzzling phenomena in Mesoamerican art history: why many of the objects that we view in museums today were once so difficult to see. She examines the importance that ancient Mesoamerican people assigned to the process of making and enlivening the things we now call art, as well as Mesoamerican understandings of sight as an especially godlike and elite power, in order to trace a gradual evolution in the uses of secrecy and concealment, from a communal practice that fostered social memory to a tool of imperial power.
Addressing some of the most charismatic of all Mesoamerican sculptures, such as Olmec buried offerings, Maya lintels, and carvings on the undersides of Aztec sculptures, Brittenham shows that the creation of unseen art has important implications both for understanding status in ancient Mesoamerica and for analyzing art in the present. Spanning nearly three thousand years of the Indigenous art of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize, Unseen Art connects the dots between vision, power, and inequality, providing a critical perspective on our own way of looking.
Sarah Newman (@newmantropologa) is an archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her research explores long-term human-environmental interactions, including questions of waste and reuse, processes of landscape transformations, and relationships between humans and other animals.