Dr. Maya Stanfield-Mazzi used her 2014 Rothman Faculty Summer Fellowship to begin writing a second book manuscript addressing how Amerindian artisans visually articulated Catholicism through church textiles and embroidery after the Spanish conquest. The Spanish colonial period (ca. 1520-1820) is commonly viewed as characterized by the imposition of foreign religious culture on indigenous peoples. However, as Stanfield-Mazzi argues, the evidence of textiles and embroidery weave a different story. Rather than coercion emanating from the colonial center, Stanfield-Mazzi argues that there was a cultural mechanism of push and pull. Indigenous artisans utilized traditional materials and techniques to produce Church textiles and tapestries with Catholic iconography. This affected local churches as much as it affected the colonized peoples.
Different types of church-oriented, or liturgical, textiles were produced by Peruvian and Mexican artisans. These textiles have been little studied despite the fact that liturgical textiles, including altar frontals and tapestries, were the primary decorations in local churches. Stanfield-Mazzi conducted archival research during 2012 in Lima and Cuzco, Peru, in order build a database of liturgical textiles. By analyzing the patterns and materials of these textiles, Stanfield-Mazzi was able to determine the continuity of indigenous influence on liturgical textiles in the New World. As an example, indigenous artisans adapted the Mexican art of feather working to the needs of churches – they used brightly colored feathers to adorn the cloth backings of miters, or bishop’s headdresses. This would have made a clear visual impact showing the influence of local practices on traditional liturgical dress.
Another important example is the correlation between altar frontals and tapestries. Altar frontals are decorative textiles of various styles that adorn altars or pulpits in a church. There is evidence of some altar frontals that were made of tapestry by Andean weavers who had retained knowledge of Incan tapestry-weaving techniques. Indigenous artisans continued to weave geometric patterns such as the Inca checkerboard into these cloths, but also imitated European textiles such as damasks and lace. This hybrid indicates that local churches were not resistant to the artworks of indigenous artisans despite utilizing non-European techniques and patterns. Although these artworks often have images of the cross, the Virgin Mary, souls in Purgatory, or the five wounds of Christ, adapted from Seville-style embroideries, cultural exchange was not necessarily unidirectional. Indigenous artisans influenced the form of the visual medium as much as Christian iconography influenced its content.
With the support of the Rothman Faculty Fellowship, Professor Stanfield-Mazzi was able to make significant progress on a project that demonstrates that colonialism and other colonist inspired projects do not necessarily have to be thought in terms of a rule of ideology. She suggests that by examining material objects produced under a colonial rule, different threads of human agency can be illuminated. With increasingly fine-tuned typologies of the material evidence, Stanfield-Mazzi shows how these artworks themselves push back against monochromatic narratives of colonial oppression.
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