Claudia Brittenham - "Unseen Art" - Mary J. Weismantel, Wu Hung, and Sarah Newman

Monday, March 6, 2023 - 5:00pm - 6:30pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Claudia Brittenham

Claudia Brittenham will discuss her book, Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica. She will be joined in conversation by Mary J. Weismantel, Wu Hung, and Sarah Newman.

This event will be held in person at the Franke Institute for the Humanities, located inside the Regenstein Library. Following UChicago's Covid protocols, masks will be encouraged, but cannot be required for this event.

About the book: In Unseen Art, Claudia Brittenham unravels one of the most puzzling phenomena in Mesoamerican art history: why many of the objects that we view in museums today were once so difficult to see. She examines the importance that ancient Mesoamerican people assigned to the process of making and enlivening the things we now call art, as well as Mesoamerican understandings of sight as an especially godlike and elite power, in order to trace a gradual evolution in the uses of secrecy and concealment, from a communal practice that fostered social memory to a tool of imperial power.

Addressing some of the most charismatic of all Mesoamerican sculptures, such as Olmec buried offerings, Maya lintels, and carvings on the undersides of Aztec sculptures, Brittenham shows that the creation of unseen art has important implications both for understanding status in ancient Mesoamerica and for analyzing art in the present. Spanning nearly three thousand years of the Indigenous art of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize, Unseen Art connects the dots between vision, power, and inequality, providing a critical perspective on our own way of looking.

About the author: Claudia Brittenham's research focuses on the art of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular attention to the ways that the materiality of art and the politics of style contribute to our understanding of the ontology of images. She received her PhD and BA from Yale University, and was formerly Assistant Curator for Eastern Hemisphere Collections at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. In addition to her most recent book, Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica, she is also the author of The Murals of Cacaxtla: The Power of Painting in Ancient Mexico (2015); the co-author with Mary Miller of The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court: Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak (2013), and with Stephen Houston and colleagues, a co-author of Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color (2009).

About the interlocutors: Mary J. Weismantel is professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University, where she has previously served as chair of the department of Anthropology, as director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, and as an adjunct curator at the Field Museum of Natural History. She received a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is the author of Playing with Things: Engaging the Moche Sex Pots (University of Texas Press, 2021), and Cholas and Pishtacos: Tales of Race and Sex in the Andes (University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Wu Hung is professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. He has published widely on both traditional and contemporary Chinese art, including, most recently, A Story of Ruins: Presence and Absence in Chinese Art and Visual Culture (Princeton University Press, 2012), Zooming In: Histories of Photography in China (University of Chicago Press, 2016), and Chinese Art and Dynastic Time (Princeton University Press, 2022). Wu Hung is Director of the Center for the Art of East Asia, and Consulting Curator of the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. 

Sarah Newman is assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. She specializes in the archaeology of Mesoamerica, with a particular focus on the ancient Maya. She received her BA in Archaeological Studies and Art History from Yale University and her MA and PhD in Anthropology from Brown University. She is a co-author of Temple of the Night Sun: A Royal Tomb at El Diablo, Guatemala (Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, 2015) and author of the forthcoming book Unmaking Waste: New Histories of Old Things (University of Chicago Press, 2023).

Event Location: 
Franke Institute for the Humanities
1100 E 57th St
Chicago, IL 60637