Indigenous Textiles and the Construction of Popular Ethnographic Memory in 1930s Guatemala
Saturday, January 9, 2016
Galleria Exhibit Hall (Hilton Atlanta)
In 1934, New York industrial textile designer Ruth Reeves traveled to Guatemala to collect Mayan textiles for the Carnegie Institution's ethnographic collections. After her return to the United States, Reeves then interpreted and reproduced the designs as modernist fashions and chic home furnishings for the legendary Macy's department store. This work examines the concept of “imperialist nostalgia” and the ways a romantic longing for an imaginary indigenous past constructed of popular memories of the Maya during the 1930s. The Macy's fashions exemplified broader changes within a modernist aesthetic and reinforced beliefs about the presumed vigor and regenerative properties of native cultures. In addition, the commercial reproduction of original Guatemalan textiles commodified Mayan material culture in order to create racial and gendered representations of supposedly primitive cultures that were, in turn, appropriated in order to construct new class-based U.S. identities rooted in shifting ideals of modernity. The exposition of Indian clothing shaped public perceptions and popular memory of the Indian past as an authentic and unchanging relic of pre-Hispanic cultural traditions.