Mixpantli: Contemporary Echoes
While sixteenth-century Spanish authorities solicited and produced maps to visualize the extent of their colonial control, the dynamic cartographic traditions of Indigenous artists embodied something more. Their maps enlivened their connections to the land, their communal histories, and their legal right to contested territories. Contemporary artists Mariana Castillo Deball and Sandy Rodriguez draw inspiration from these traditions, wielding mapmaking to challenge apolitical renderings of space.
Deball’s etched floor, Vista de Ojos, places the viewer inside one of the most contested spaces: the first Indigenous cartographic representation of the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan under Spanish rule. The original map was painted around 1550, and addresses with intelligent subtlety the contention between the colonizers and Indigenous life. While the new Spanish city appears as if frozen in time and empty of life, the lake and the mountains around it are filled with Indigenous people working, fishing, and walking around. Deball’s immense black floor with crisp white lines expands and summons history into the present. The contemporary viewer has to walk across the map to recognize the forms that comprise it, transforming the cartographic and historic space into a vision of the future: our current moment.
Rodriguez also merges different times and spaces in her cartographic work, but through a different artistic device. Her maps are drawn as recognizable, modern depictions of today’s contested territories: the U.S.-Mexican border, the Western states of the U.S., including California, and Los Angeles, where Rodriguez fuses present-day events with imagery made by sixteenth-century painters to transform these maps into complex, multilayered images of history. In her practice, Rodriguez adheres to an Indigenous way of painting—she collects minerals, plants, and flowers to transform the pigments she employs into tokens of the lands she is representing. In this way, Rodriguez brings Mesoamerican painting into the present.