Negotiating Historical Memory along the Catechetical Divide: New Approaches to Indigenous Art and Faith in Seventeenth-Century Río de la Plata

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 2 (Washington Hilton)
Kristin L. Huffine, Northern Illinois University
As early as 1618, two of the Jesuit missions of Río de la Plata, San Ignacio and Loreto, had functioning workshops for the production of religious art.  By the turn of the eighteenth century, all of the Rioplatine missions were producing paintings and iconic sculpture for parishes, schools, missions, public buildings, and Jesuit ranches throughout South America.  Most of these religious objects were produced by the indigenous Guaraní.  While art historians and anthropologists have articulated the importance of indigenous contributions to mission art, sculpture, and architecture, no one has studied the religious and epistemological import of Guaraní-Christian visual culture to a study of the colonial past. This paper examines the use of artwork and material culture as a means of understanding historical memory, religious instruction, and indigenous faith during the colonial period in Río de la Plata.  It also focuses on the methodological difficulties of using non-written sources and negotiating history, faith, and knowledge production within divergent cultural frames of reference. Focusing specifically on the ways in which floral motifs and vegetal and animal designs helped articulate Guaraní notions of American nature, culture, and religious identity unaccounted for in Jesuit mission literature, this paper demonstrates how the study of indigenous artwork and material culture introduces new ways of understanding colonial Guaraní thought and faith as it emerged within and alongside the institutional framework of the Jesuit historical record.
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