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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

Yann Petit

Meeting Schedule

10/13/2022 Schermerhorn 934, Columbia University
6:30 PM
Body, Remembered: The Concept of Skin in Nahua Lost-Wax Gold Casting
Allison Caplan, University of California, Santa Barbara


Lost-wax gold casting was a longstanding artform among the Nahua people of central Mexico, arriving in the region around 800 CE and persisting after the onset of Spanish colonization in the sixteenth century. While lost-wax casting appears in multiple traditions around the globe, Nahua approaches to casting are unique in their conceptualization of the cast goldwork as a skin that is honed on the body of a casting core before ultimately being detached. Through a careful reading of the Nahuatl-language narrative of traditional lost-wax gold casting that appears in the 1575–77 Florentine Codex, this presentation examines how the Nahua concept of skin materially shaped the casting process as well as the very ontology of the goldworks that it produced. This discussion foregrounds Nahuatl visual terms as a body of knowledge with keen significance for the creation and interpretation of Nahua art and as a significant part of the global canon of art theory.

12/08/2022 Schermerhorn 934, Columbia University
6:30 PM
Visual Economies and Emergent Aesthetics in the Terminal Formative Period (AD 400-600) in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia
Dr. Andrew Roddick, McMaster University


Archaeologist Severin Fowles (2017) reminds us that images and people are mutually constitutive, both defining historical contexts and bringing about those very contexts. Researchers have investigated the aesthetic labor that lies behind image systems, including during periods of great political change and changing social worlds. In this talk, I explore the visual economies associated with Tiwanaku, an urban center on the southern edge of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. I focus on the images that define some of the earliest occupations of the site, recently defined as the “Terminal Late Formative” (A.D. 400-600). These two centuries are characterized by significant political change, expanding social networks, and aesthetic innovation. Yet surprisingly little work has been done to explore the relationship between the early Tiwanaku visual economy and the social and political projects that made the urban center. I shall trace the relations and citational practices of decorated "Qeya" vessels, consider the earliest stone monoliths, and integrate regional textiles. This data will allow me to explore early Tiwanaku inhabitants' perceptual worlds. I shall then turn to aesthetic labor. As artisans painted the imagery on the vessels, and as the finished objects were displayed and deposited, inhabitants of Tiwanaku contributed labor to some of the earliest large-scale construction projects at the site, forever changing the historical trajectory of the region.

02/02/2023 Zoom
6:30 PM
Negotiated Space in Contemporary Nigerian Art
Dr. Yomi Ola, Spelman College
Speaker Link Abstract


This presentation will examine visual satire by contemporary artists of the Nigerian diaspora in the United States. It will analyze a few models of visual commentary, parody, or satire drawn from the collections of artists that include Obiora Udechukwu, dele jegede, Marcia Kure, Wole Lagunju, and Adenle Adewale. Avidly collected and exhibited at home and abroad, some are emerging artists, while others are established and highly visible since the 1980s. As Nigerians go to the polls this spring to elect a new president, these artworks vividly remind us that the country remains a negotiated space for its people and even more so for its journalists and artists. Through local images, idioms, and objects, most of these artworks underscore several questions that have trailed the country’s crop of postcolonial civilian and military leaders since political independence in 1960, but a few of the artworks critique power at a universal level.

03/01/2023 Schermerhorn 934, Columbia University
6:30 PM
A Prosthetic Other to Negotiate the Self: Juan Trepadori and the Poetics of Play
Jeronimo Duarte Riascos, LAIC, Columbia University


In 1964, artists Luis Camnitzer, Liliana Porter, and José Guillermo Castillo founded the New York Graphic Workshop, determined to employ printmaking as a revolutionary tool to “transform today’s consumers into creative individuals.” Infusing the materiality of the practice with a conceptual bent, one of the Workshop’s first creations was fictional artist Juan Trepadori, whose technique epitomized contemporary stereotypes of Latin American art. A commercial success, Trepadori became a platform for other Latin American artists, who, invited by the Workshop, would produce prints Trepadori-style and then use the profits to fund their less commercial works.

This talk examines the complex operations designed by the Workshop that made Trepadori possible to argue that the artist functioned as what I propose to call a Prosthetic Other. Trepadori became a figure of alterity through which distinct Latin American artists performed multifaceted negotiations of identity, often enacting conflicting desires. His prosthetic existence became a space for play that destabilized the Workshop’s revolutionary impetus and, sometimes unconsciously, subverted ideas of identity and alterity as they operated in the artists’ conception of the Self and the mainstream market’s projections of the Other.

04/20/2023 Schermerhorn 934, Columbia University
6:30 PM
Ch’ixi Epistemology and `The Potosí Principle' in the Twenty-First Century
Alexander Alberro, Columbia University


My paper focuses on the project exhibition, “The Potosí Principle: Colonial Image Production in the Global Economy,” curated by Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann, and Max Jorge Hinderer, as well as the critique it received from the Bolivian group of artists and scholars organized under the name El Colectivo when it opened at Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum in 2010. “The Potosí Principle” explored the callous dynamics of global capitalism from the surprising perspective of the Spanish colonial empire and its distinctive imagery. It merged history and place, discourse and design, the performative and the reflexive. Despite the exhibition’s innovative presentation techniques and interpretative boldness, however, El Colectivo accused the curators of insufficiently decolonizing the structure of exhibition-making. What was at stake in El Colectivo’s criticism? How justified were its claims? And what might this conflict tell us about the relationship between artists, curators, and curated cultures in the twenty-first century?