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  • Seminar Number

Founded by Douglas Fraser, this seminar addresses major issues in the fields of African, Oceanic, Native American, and pre-Hispanic Latin American arts. The seminar provides an opportunity for members to analyze, evaluate, and discuss new and continuing research, as well as various trends in scholarship. Because the membership is comprised of art historians, curators, archeologists, anthropologists, and other field specialists, seminar meetings frequently involve in-depth discussions of theoretical and methodological issues. The seminar sponsors special symposia on diverse topics; the most recent entitled Art as Identity in the Americas.

Dr. Francesco Pellizzi

Professor Zoë Strother

Professor Lisa Trever

Katherine McCarthy

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

10/03/2019 832 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
6:30 PM
The Curious Case of Coronado’s Shields: Towards an Iconology of Pueblo Visual Culture on the Eve of Spanish Colonialism
Severin Morris Fowles, Barnard College, Columbia University


In 1540, Francisco Vázquez de Coronado marched forth to conquer, he hoped, the golden kingdoms that were rumored to exist on the far northern frontier of the Spanish Trans-Atlantic Empire. He encountered instead the Pueblo communities of what is today New Mexico and Arizona. This presentation reconsiders a fleeting episode drawn from the Spanish account of Coronado’s violent travels throughout the region: the gift of shields by a Pueblo delegation to their invaders.

To understand this gift requires a complicated cultural inquiry into not just the meanings of Pueblo shields but the images that adorned them, the wider role of iconography in Ancestral Pueblo society, and the very nature of power, agency, and subjectivity within the indigenous traditions of the American West. Furthermore, the curious case of Coronado’s shields also presents an opportunity to consider what archaeology and anthropology have to offer art history, and vice versa.

12/05/2019 832 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
6:30 PM
An Alchemy of Pre-Hispanic Honduras
Rosemary A. Joyce, University of California, Berkeley


Rooted in the realist ontology of physicist Karen Barad, the geontology of ethnographer Elizabeth Povinelli, and the discussion of animacy hierarchies by Mel Chen, this presentation reconsiders materials usually treated as inert or inactive, geological substances that some recent New Materialist thought excludes from an otherwise all-embracing concept of liveliness of things.

Concentrating on four geological or inorganic substances—clay, obsidian, marble, and copper—which came into use over the course of the long history of Pre-Hispanic Honduras, from before 8000 BC to the sixteenth century AD, this lecture will consider whether it is possible to reinstate a sense of the way that ancient Hondurans viewed, recognized, and tested the properties of these substances. The presentation will also address how the vitality inherent to these materials created the conditions for human relationships with them, as well as relationships among them: an indigenous alchemy parallel to that of their European contemporaries.

01/30/2020 832 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
6:30 PM
Magic, Crime, and Culture in early 20th Century Brazilian Black Art
Dr. Roberto Conduru, Southern Methodist University


At the beginning of the 20th century a set of pioneering texts examined the artistic dimension of artifacts manufactured and used in Brazilian religious communities, which were linked to African belief systems. These works were authored by physicians Raymundo Nina Rodrigues and Arthur Ramos—considered the founding figures of the field of Brazilian Anthropology— and the museum expert and art critic Mário Barata. They argued from the collections of those artifacts they constituted for themselves, but also from the random sets of objects confiscated violently and unsystematically by the police.

This presentation will discuss the disputes of varied disciplines and social realms in this process, considering how the material culture of Afro-Brazilian religions was understood by other authors and artists, collected by quite diverse institutions regarding their disciplinary fields and sociocultural missions, and ultimately officially recognized as part of Brazilian cultural heritage.

03/03/2020 832 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
6:30 PM
Conceiving the Encyclopedic: The Founding Decades of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870-1914)
Joanne Pillsbury, The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Established in 1870 with neither a collection nor a building of its own, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) was dedicated to an ambitious, cosmopolitan vision—one that was global in scope and embraced the entirety of art history. In the early decades of the institution’s history, particular attention was paid to the acquisition of American antiquities, part of a broader move toward hemispheric unity in the nineteenth century, and one that was deeply entangled with political, and emergent national, ambitions towards Latin America. By 1900, The Met had acquired over 2,000 objects made by indigenous artists of the Western Hemisphere. This precocious inclusion of the ancient Americas into an art museum was reversed by 1914, when the institution reconsidered the place of these works within a fine arts museum and the bulk of this collection was sent across Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History. In some ways, this history is an idiosyncratic saga of The Met’s collecting and an evolving institutional identity. On a deeper level, however, this history is also about shifting definitions of what is considered “fine art,” and the recognition of the arts of the indigenous Americas as part of global narratives.

04/02/2020 832 Schermerhorn Hall, Columbia University
6:00 PM
meeting cancelled