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School of Art Speaker Series - Dr. Julia Guernsey
Thursday, November 11, 2021
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
The Significance of Figuration and Bodily Fragmentation in Ancient Mesoamerica
Ancient Mesoamerica was filled with bodies, not only living, breathing ones, but also those carved from stone, molded from clay, or crafted from ephemeral materials. This talk explores the significance of these many acts of human representation during the Preclassic era of Mesoamerica, or from about 1800 BCE to CE 250. It considers not only monumental stone sculptures, like the famous colossal heads of the Olmec, but also small, palm-sized, hand modeled ceramic figurines that were just as carefully crafted. Many of these human representations are fragmentary; sometimes a single body part, such as a head, stood in for the entire body. In other cases, we see evidence of deliberate bodily fragmentation or the segmentation of once complete bodies into their constituent parts. In Preclassic Mesoamerica, human figuration and fragmentation attest to ancient conceptualizations of personhood and the relationship of the individual to the community. Getting at these meanings is a methodologically complex process that, when we step back from it, provides the opportunity to think about both the significance of representation for ancient Mesoamericans, and the methods that we modern scholars use in getting at this information.