For historians of the Spanish Americas indigenous portraits and casta paintings offer two distinctive lenses for understanding the relationships between indigeneity and colonialism. Both genres of painting anchor indigenous bodies and subjectivities in the racialized practices that were constitutive of, and crucial to, colonialism in the Americas. Indigenous portraits record individual biographies and family histories, offering scholars of the present insights into the lives of people whose desires rarely surface in prose sources. Indigenous portraits also document the economic and material investments people were willing to make in preserving images of lives well lived. In the colonial past, as in the present, indigenous portraits therefore speak to the ways social ambitions fueled identity formation. Cuadros de castas, or casta paintings, are a genre of painting invented and painted in the Spanish Americas in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Casta paintings, like indigenous portraits, describe status and economic wealth; their main aim, however, was to portray the ethnic mixing and concomitant racialized thinking in colonial society. According to the iconography and composition of casta paintings, the mixing of people from Europe, Africa, and the Americas could be ordered and organized such that everyone seemed to have a place and appropriate ethnic designation. Today, casta paintings are understood as persuasive works of art that presented an idealized, hierarchical view of urban life. The painters and patrons of indigenous portraits and casta paintings participated in networks formed by habits of material exchange, patterns of urban mobility, and practices linked to Catholic religious beliefs. Some of these networks stretched across the Americas; others were bound to trade and travel across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The histories referenced in indigenous portraits and casta paintings should be understood, then, as tethered to local concerns, global economies, and cosmopolitan ambitions.
Dana Leibsohn and Meha Priyadarshini
Barbara E. Mundy and Dana Leibsohn
Across the last 25 years, digital projects on the visual culture of Latin America have begun to shape, ever more fundamentally, both research and teaching environments. To be sure, books and journal essays remain the dominant mode of publishing (and significantly so), but digital projects—made possible in part because of increasingly accessible databases and less expensive editing platforms—are becoming widely recognized as key elements in the visual and intellectual landscape. The visual culture of Spanish America (also known as colonial visual culture or viceregal visual culture) extends across three centuries, dating from roughly 1520 to 1820. Yet its history, which embraces both the physical traces of everyday life and ephemeral experiences, is arguably the least familiar of Latin America’s artistic and material legacies, especially outside Latin American Studies. Nonetheless, the period has inspired a suite of projects that, considered together, highlight the current potentials (and limits) of digital work, provide useful models for future research, and open onto debates relevant across the digital humanities (as they are currently called). If this is the basic landscape, then what are the important issues when it comes to the intersections of digital technologies and colonial visual culture? This question is considered here along three avenues. First, what can be achieved with existing software, particularly imaging software, and the inherent epistemological assumptions imbedded in software commonly used? This topic receives the most attention because future research depends so heavily upon our perceptions and understandings of present technological capabilities. The second theme considered is accessibility. Given that institution-driven projects, most often online ventures sponsored by a museum or a library, have opened certain collections to an online public, what are the implications of the accessibility they offer, and how might such databases shape the parameters of research—both in the data they provide and in the kinds of questions their technologies make it possible to pose and answer? Finally, consideration is given to the possibilities and potentials for collaboration that the online environment offers in the study of visual culture of Latin America. To set a framework for discussion, this article begins with a broad view, “The Object(s) of Visual Culture,” and then turns to examples of scholar-driven projects currently online. Typically, these are generated by scholars working at universities and dependent upon both internal and external funding. The sections “Seeing Images, Knowing Landscapes” and “Epistemological Assumptions” not only describe examples, but also explore the modes of interpretation that digital environments enable and the habits of viewing that are produced as a result. Because scholar-driven projects do not exist in isolation, the article turns to institution-driven projects, represented primarily by digitized museum collections and archives, which have become central components of the research environment. Many projects in this vein are well-described elsewhere—our focus therefore rests on the effects on the larger research landscape, in a section called “Accessibility, Canonicity, Finance.” Lastly, issues related to collaboration are dealt with, in order to both address ideas that are being explored through digital work in other fields, but which have not yet surfaced with much force in the field of colonial visual culture, and to ask why.
Recorded in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2007, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1615) offers remarkable glimpses into ancient Andean institutions and traditions as well as those of colonialized Andean society in the Spanish viceroyalty of Peru. Housed at the Royal Library of Denmark since the 1660s and first published in photographic facsimile in 1936, the autograph manuscript (written and drawn by its author’s own hand) has been the topic of research in Andean studies for several decades. Prepared by an international team of technicians and scholars, the digital facsimile was placed online on the newly created Guaman Poma Website at the Royal Library in 2001. Thanks to its free global access, research has accelerated, offering new and ongoing challenges in such fields as history, art history, environmental studies, linguistics, literary, and cultural studies in Andeanist, Latin Americanist, and post-colonialist perspectives. The work’s 1,200 pages (of which 400 are full-page drawings) offer Guaman Poma’s novel account of pre-Columbian Andean and modern Spanish conquest history as well as his sometimes humorous but most often harrowing exposé of the activities of all the castes and classes of the colonial society of his day. Guaman Poma’s account reveals how social roles and identities could evolve under colonial rule over the course of a single individual’s lifetime. As a Quechua speaker who learned Spanish, and thus called an “indio ladino” by the colonizers, Guaman Poma’s Quechua-inflected Spanish prose may present reading challenges in both its handwritten form and searchable typeset transcription, but his 400 drawings welcome casual as well as scholarly and student readers into the rooms and onto the roadways of that multi-ethnic—Andean, African, Spanish, and Spanish creole—world.