Mapas de Merced

Audio Guide

Lords and noblemen, here are your papers, the mirror of your antiquity and the history of your ancestors.
— Códice de Cholula

Like mirrors, maps are instruments of seeing, making visible the histories of people on their lands. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Indigenous artists produced maps to accompany legal petitions against royal land grants, documenting the long-standing relationships between Indigenous communities and their lands. The paintings in this exhibition are artist facsimiles of the original maps, known as mapas de merced, which are housed in Mexico’s General Archive of the Nation. Artists drew on centuries of Indigenous cartographic, narrative, and artistic traditions to make Indigenous lands, histories, and relations legible to colonial courts. By becoming fluent in two distinct visual traditions, artists resisted the colonial appropriation of lands and subverted Spanish authority, creating mirrors of their own antiquity.