Conquest, travel and the slave trade—from the moment of Columbus' landing onwards—forced people of disparate cultures and ethnicities together in Spanish America, be they indigenous, European, African or Asian. The resulting mixes of people and their cultural traditions became a hallmark of Spanish American life. This unit considers the visual culture that arose from this history of mixing, a process called mestizaje. It includes objects like this Taíno zemi, a sacred figure crafted in the Caribbean of local shell beads, glass mirrors from Europe, and rhinoceros horn from Africa. In examining works that bear witness to cross-cultural exchange (and at times conflict), this unit asks how people in Spanish America used visual culture to make sense of ethnic and material diversity in their daily life.


Zemi, ca. 1500-10. Museo Nazionale Preistorico ed Etnografico "L. Pigorini," Rome

Copyright 2003, Dana Leibsohn and Barbara Mundy
Please credit as: Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara Mundy, Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820.
http://www.smith.edu/vistas, 2003.