Between Art and Artifact

Between Art and Artifact

Ronda L. Brulotte
Copyright Date: 2012
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    Between Art and Artifact
    Book Description:

    Oaxaca is internationally renowned for its marketplaces and archaeological sites where tourists can buy inexpensive folk art, including replicas of archaeological treasures. Archaeologists, art historians, and museum professionals sometimes discredit this trade in "fakes" that occasionally make their way to the auction block as antiquities. Others argue that these souvenirs represent a long cultural tradition of woodcarving or clay sculpting and are "genuine" artifacts of artisanal practices that have been passed from generation to generation, allowing community members to preserve their cultural practices and make a living. Exploring the intriguing question of authenticity and its relationship to cultural forms in Oaxaca and throughout southern Mexico, Between Art and Artifact confronts an important issue that has implications well beyond the commercial realm.

    Demonstrating that identity politics lies at the heart of the controversy, Ronda Brulotte provides a nuanced inquiry into what it means to present "authentic" cultural production in a state where indigenous ethnicity is part of an awkward social and racial classification system. Emphasizing the world-famous woodcarvers of Arrazola and the replica purveyors who come from the same community, Brulotte presents the ironies of an ideology that extols regional identity but shuns its artifacts as "forgeries." Her work makes us question the authority of archaeological discourse in the face of local communities who may often see things differently. A departure from the dialogue that seeks to prove or disprove "authenticity," Between Art and Artifact reveals itself as a commentary on the arguments themselves, and what the controversy can teach us about our shifting definitions of authority and authorship.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73780-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. 1-25)

    I drove southwest from the city of oaxaca toward the artisan village of San Antonio Arrazola, remembering my impressions of the town when I first visited it in the spring of 1995. Much had changed in the intervening years, including the highway itself, which sported freshly paved asphalt. I passed through the outskirts of Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, a separate town that was increasingly being incorporated into Oaxaca’s urban sprawl. I continued along the highway for a few more kilometers before signaling to make the right-hand turn onto the paved but badly rutted road leading to Arrazola. The turnoff had been...

  6. CHAPTER TWO A Wood-Carving Community
    (pp. 28-49)

    As two popular english-language buying guides attest (Hancock Sandoval 1998; Rothstein and Rothstein 2007), the opportunity to purchase unique, locally produced crafts is one of central Oaxaca’s biggest draws. Crafts abound not only in Arrazola, but also in the city’s numerous shops and other nearby towns.

    A pattern of village craft specialization with roots that scholars have traced to pre-Hispanic market systems (Cook and Diskin 1976) has afforded certain Oaxacan communities a measure of fame and economic stability as craft producers. Notable are Teotitlán del Valle and Santa María Atzompa, famous for their woolen textiles and green pottery respectively, which...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Arrazola’s Other Craft
    (pp. 55-77)

    As the official “birthplace of the alebrijes,” Arrazola is much touted by guidebooks and other media promoting the art and culture of Oaxaca. But complicating Arrazola’s image as a traditional wood-carving village is a group of men who dedicate themselves to the production and sale of replicas of pre-Hispanic artifacts at Monte Albán, the largest, most visited archaeological zone in Oaxaca. Unlike wood carving, with its associations of artistic genius and rags-to-riches success stories, the history of the archaeological replica trade and Arrazola’s participation in it is little known outside the community except within INAH archaeology circles. In fact, the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Crafting the Past in the Present
    (pp. 81-107)

    The above excerpt comes from howard leigh’s unpublished 1979 memoir, in which he reflected on a lifetime of studying and collecting Oaxacan antiquities.¹ Leigh was an American scholar of Mixtec language and culture who spent the bulk of his life in Mexico and, together with his associate Ervin R. Frissell, amassed one of the most impressive collections of Zapotec and Mixtec ceramics on the continent, today housed at the Frissell Museum in Mitla, Oaxaca. In his quest to find unique artifacts, over the years he purportedly learned to distinguish between ancient pieces and those crafted by modern-day artisans such as...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Replicating Authenticity, Authenticating Replicas
    (pp. 112-136)

    Traveler lee arnold (2002) recounted his experience at Monte Albán, a website billing itself as “the ultimate resource for the independent traveler.” In contrast to the Mexican tourist discussed in the preceding vignette, Arnold portrays himself as too savvy to be taken in by the “discourse of uncertainty” (van der Spek 2008) maintained by vendors to incite the feeling of possibility: Could the recently crafted artifacts in fact be from pre-Hispanic antiquity? I previously discussed state interventions in replica makers and sellers’ creative, and sometimes lucrative, use of Mexican cultural patrimony. Yet the full-scale suppression of the archaeological...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Replicas and the Ambiguity of Race and Indigeneity
    (pp. 144-168)

    This chapter examines the multiple and sometimes ambiguous ideas about race and indigeneity that are articulated within Oaxaca’s overlapping craft and tourism economies, and illustrated by this encounter at Monte Albán. These spaces constitute part of a Oaxacan “touristic borderzone” (Bruner 1996; Little 2004a) where transnational processes of cultural and economic exchange related to tourism entail a reworking of ethno-racial classifications. Of concern here is how categories such as “Indian,”¹ “indigenous,” and “mestizo” and ethnic classifiers, including “Zapotec” and “Mixtec,” among others, are experienced and enacted locally by artisans, vendors, tourists, and anthropologists.

    Anthropologist Les Field notes that “artisanal production,...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Why Fake Jaguar Gods Matter
    (pp. 169-174)

    As concerns mount that globalization is eroding the distinctions that give places their unique character, Oaxaca retains its aura of cultural alterity even as it experiences the penetration of multinational capital and flows of visitors from around the world. Mexico City–based writer and travel columnist Barbara Kastelein describes a network of social actors and institutions that continuously work to submerge those aspects of Oaxacan lived experience not in line with tourist expectations. Although her comments evidence a dualistic notion of cultural authenticity, they are still perceptive:

    While Oaxaca is not yet inundated by plastic trinkets and “airport art”—sights...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 175-188)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-215)