Contemporary Latin American and Latinx artists who engage with pre-Hispanic and early colonial book histories have adapted the materials, formats, or iconographies of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books and objects of knowledge transfer. Although the resulting artworks are as wildly varied as the idea of the book itself, they constitute forms of decolonial praxis in their desire to reclaim or reassign agency in historical narratives; uncover, criticize, or dismantle structures of inequity; or preserve, re-create, and cocreate knowledge. Artists’ remixes and renewals are not derivative or motivated by a simple desire to preserve the past. Some have reclaimed pre-Hispanic techniques to tell new stories, or they have reimagined the book altogether, abandoning its conventional structures and transmuting pre- and postconquest iconographies into murals, sculpture, film, or more conceptual/hybrid works. Contemporary artists have also looked to early colonial books as windows into Indigenous experiences of the conquest, amplifying those perspectives while relating them to recent sociopolitical realities and their hopes for the future. The artists discussed in this essay include Mariana Castillo Deball (Mexico), Sandy Rodriguez (United States), Carlos Colín (Mexico), Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza (Ecuador), Falco (Ecuador), Andrés Pereira Paz (Bolivia), and Cecilia Vicuña (Chile).

Los artistas latinoamericanos y latinx contemporáneos que trabajan con las historias del libro de la época prehispánica y de los primeros años de la colonia han adaptado los materiales, formatos o iconografías de libros de los siglos XVI y XVII y objetos que sirven de puente para transmitir información de generación en generación. Aunque las obras de arte que son frutos de este trabajo son tan variadas como la misma idea del libro, estas constituyen formas de praxis decolonial por la manera en que reivindican o reasignan la agencia en las narrativas históricas; descubrir, criticar o desmantelar estructuras de inequidad; o preservar, recrear y co-crear el conocimiento. Los remix y renovaciones de los artistas no son meros derivados ni están motivados por un simple deseo de conservar el pasado. Algunos han recuperado técnicas prehispánicas a fin de contar historias nuevas, o han repensado el libro por completo, abandonando sus estructuras convencionales y transmutando iconografías anteriores y posteriores a la conquista en murales, esculturas, películas u obras más conceptuales o híbridas. Otros artistas contemporáneos han visto en los primeros libros coloniales verdaderas manifestaciones de las experiencias indígenas de la conquista, amplificando estas perspectivas al tiempo que las relacionan con la actualidad sociopolítica y esperanzas para el futuro. Los artistas abordados en este ensayo son: Mariana Castillo Deball (México), Sandy Rodríguez (Estados Unidos), Carlos Colín (México), Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza (Ecuador), Falco (Ecuador), Andrés Pereira Paz (Bolivia) y Cecilia Vicuña (Chile).

Artistas contemporâneos latino-americanos e latinx que engajam histórias de livros pré-hispânicos e do início da colonização adaptam os materiais, formatos ou iconografias de livros e objetos de transferência de conhecimento dos séculos XVI e XVII. Embora as obras de arte resultantes sejam tão variadas quanto a ideia do próprio livro, elas constituem formas de práxis decolonial em seu desejo de reivindicar ou reatribuir a agência nas narrativas históricas; descobrir, criticar ou desmantelar estruturas de iniquidade; ou preservar, recriar e co-criar conhecimento. Remixes e renovações por parte destes artistas não são derivativos ou motivados por um simples desejo de preservar o passado. Alguns recuperaram técnicas pré-hispânicas para contar novas histórias, ou reimaginaram o livro completamente, abandonando suas estruturas convencionais e transmutando iconografias pré e pós-conquista em murais, esculturas, filmes ou obras mais conceituais/híbridas. artistas contemporâneos também olharam para os primeiros livros coloniais como janelas para as experiências indígenas da conquista, ampliando essas perspectivas ao relacioná-los com as realidades sociopolíticas recentes e suas expectativas para o futuro. OS artistas discutidos nesse ensaio incluem Mariana Castillo Deball (México), Sandy Rodriguez (Estados Unidos), Carlos Colín (México), Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza (Equador), Falco (Equador), Andrés Pereira Paz (Bolívia) e Cecilia Vicuña (Chile).

As part of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century missionary efforts to subjugate, convert, and ultimately assimilate the Indigenous populations of Mesoamerica and the Andes, mendicant friars destroyed objects of knowledge transfer in staggering numbers—and especially those perceived as books by analogy with Europeans’ own manuscript and print traditions.1 New codices were then created in their place, but the assistance of Indigenous translators and painter-scribes meant that they were not simply duplicates of European books. As Alessandra Russo observes, the name “New Spain,” which the Spanish empire applied to its overseas territories, captures the imperial preoccupation with model and copy, with “a double dynamic: an imaginary duplication of worlds and an awareness of a new reality.”2 Through the case studies in The Untranslatable Image, Russo reveals how European attempts to control image production were thwarted as Indigenous artists created new and unanticipated visual languages. Even when they modeled new creations on European images, “this copying enabled them to take possession of them.”3 Similarly, Latin American and Latinx artists who engage with pre-Hispanic and early colonial book histories take possession of their models, rejecting the notion of derivative copies in their creation of new visual cultures. Through creative responses to the book histories of the Americas, they actively disrupt the Eurocentric fictions used to justify systematic oppression, exploitation, and violence. They also refuse the colonial teleology in which the Americas required or benefited from the civilizing effects of the European Renaissance and its definitions of books and writing.

Visual artists’ interventions into pre-Hispanic and early colonial book histories constitute forms of “historical writing and righting,” to borrow from Maylei Blackwell’s work on the oral histories of Chicana activism.4 The impulse to disrupt hegemonic book histories also extends beyond individual books to the activities of institutional publishers, archives, and museums.5 The collection, preservation, and dissemination of newsletters, pamphlets, zines, and personal documents form an equally important part of book-related memory work.6 What unites these different activities is their privileging of “local histories, subjectivities, knowledges, narratives, and struggles against the modern/colonial order and for an otherwise.”7

This last description comes from the Duke University Press series “On Decoloniality,” but it likewise applies to decolonial visual cultures. In discussions of the “decolonial turn,” scholars often distinguish “decoloniality” from “decolonization,” reserving the latter for independence movements and the formation of sovereign nation-states. According to this distinction, decoloniality is not directed from the top down or enacted through political regulation. In more concrete terms, decolonial arts entail some or all of the following actions:

  • reclaiming or reassigning agency, or, more specifically, amplifying and celebrating marginalized practices, perspectives, and bodies; recovering the agency of those individuals under- or misrepresented in, or completely erased from, dominant (whether European or Anglo-American) accounts of history and what Emma Pérez has named the colonial imaginary.8 Because the marginalizing or dehumanizing effects of the colonial imaginary extend across categories of race, culture, gender expression and identity, sexuality, and class, among others, decolonial arts practices are rarely limited to a single vector of self-determination. They often include or overlap with Black, Indigenous, and feminist art.9

  • uncovering, criticizing, or dismantling structures of inequity and fictional hierarchies of difference. In enacting the “de-” of decoloniality, artworks often put forth aspirational or speculative visions for the future. Such works do not seek to be ahistorical; they acknowledge and confront sources of past trauma directly. As Nelson Maldonado-Torres notes, “Taking colonialism as a fundamental problem means that before becoming an object of study, colonialism has already shaped the ways in which one looks at problems and objects of study.”10

  • recuperating, preserving, recreating, and co-creating knowledge through collaboration, and especially forms of knowledge that have faced erasure and often continue to be undermined or suppressed. These less hierarchical approaches to artmaking are especially important among groups who have faced the systematic destruction of their cultures and forms of expression, and who seek to undo attempts at colonizing memory.

In this essay, I do not use books and writing as fixed terms for a class of objects and processes. Rather, I offer the following working definition: culturally or regionally defined systems of conveying knowledge that are intended to persist beyond the spoken word. Such “objects of knowledge transfer,” a phrase from Germaine Warkentin’s discussion of “the book” in the precontact Americas, can even include projection-based books and other dematerialized objects.11 One need only reflect on the current publishing landscape to realize how easily we discard materials and materiality while still referring to books and writing.

Artists’ books, and also artists’ reconceptualizations of books, are as wildly varied as the idea of the book itself. In the context of Latin American and Latinx artworks, some of this variation arises when artists engage with different pre-Hispanic sign carriers. For example, Chicanx and Mexican artists have addressed the multiple fates of Aztec and Maya books, reviving their materials, formats, and production techniques or reworking their modes of communication. In western South America, particularly the Andean countries corresponding to the former Inca empire, some contemporary artists have taken inspiration from a radically different history of pre-Hispanic communication, one in which manuscript practices and paper were absent or limited. Although the differences in communications practices motivate the somewhat geographic organization of this essay, there are features the two groupings share in common. Contemporary artists on both sides of the Mesoamerican-Andean divide have renewed or remixed book illustrations of the postcontact era.12

Despite claims that adaptations of preconquest visual cultures are “clichéd and restrictive,” artists have continued innovating ways to destabilize the very idea of historical fact through uses of anachronism (or what certain historians might view as such).13 They repurpose their sources in ways that are often witty and lighthearted, while also offering trenchant criticisms of the colonial imaginary, or they amplify the perspectives of the Indigenous creators who participated in early colonial manuscript production. These artists not only resist singular chronologies and narratives of evolutionary development but also use discontinuity—intervals, disruptions, erasure—as opportunities to renew and redefine past sign systems. In some cases, they have reimagined the book altogether, abandoning its conventional structures and transmuting illustrations into murals, sculpture, film, or more conceptual/hybrid works.

Evidence of writing appears in Mesoamerica as far back as 500 to 400 BCE and possibly much earlier.14 Writing systems certainly flourished during the first millennium of the Common Era, long before the arrival of European alphabetic writing to the Americas. The Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica, among them the Aztec (Mexica), Mixtec, Zapotec, and Maya, communicated with different languages and writing systems. Pictography was common to many of the groups in central and southern Mexico, whereas phonetic, syllabic hieroglyphs were used by the Maya, whose empire covered the Yucatán Peninsula, the modern-day countries of Guatemala and Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Salvador. Mesoamerican writing appeared as part of large paintings on cotton cloth (sometimes called lienzos), rolls (sometimes tiras), and screenfolds (accordion-folded rolls) made from deerskin or bark paper (called amate in Spanish and amatl in Nahuatl) (fig. 1). Their contents were often divinatory, calendrical, historical, or cosmological in nature.

Figure 1.

Facsimile of the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer (Liverpool, World Museum, 12014 M) shown open and closed, original made before 1521, glued deerskin, approximately 6½ × 6¾ in. (16.5 × 17.5 cm) when closed and 12 ft. 7¼ in. (385 cm) when open (artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by Giovanni Scorcioni/Facsimile Finder)

Figure 1.

Facsimile of the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer (Liverpool, World Museum, 12014 M) shown open and closed, original made before 1521, glued deerskin, approximately 6½ × 6¾ in. (16.5 × 17.5 cm) when closed and 12 ft. 7¼ in. (385 cm) when open (artwork in the public domain; photograph provided by Giovanni Scorcioni/Facsimile Finder)

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Of the manuscripts made entirely in preconquest styles, fewer than twenty have survived from the pre- and early colonial period; their current names reflect their “afterlives” rather than their earliest contexts or uses. As curator Marcos Sánchez-Tranquilino laments, “Rarely, if ever, were the pre-Columbian codices or colonial facsimiles named after the indigenous owner or scribe/artist; rather, they were identified by the person who ‘discovered,’ ‘purchased,’ or otherwise ‘collected’ them.”15 New naming conventions were among the interventions of The Chicano Codices: Encountering Art of the Americas, the 1992 exhibition Sánchez-Tranquilino guest-curated for San Francisco’s Mexican Museum, September 23–November 29, 1992.16

Reflections on the legacies of the conquest, and especially its implications for material culture, surged around 1992, which marked the quincentenary of Columbus’s voyage to the New World. When Sánchez-Tranquilino invited contributions from Chicanx artists to The Chicano Codices, his intention was that they “replenish the void that has remained in indigenous American culture since the original picture books were burned by colonial administrations,” counter the dispersion of surviving books, and contribute Chicanx perspectives to the existing debates around the quincentenary.17 Artists who self-identify as Chicanx often take on the history of resistance and activism associated with that identity.18 Accordingly, several of the contributions to The Chicano Codices celebrated Mesoamerican Indigenous traditions and critiqued/discarded Eurocentric attitudes toward race, labor, and the natural world. In many cases, works shared physical or aesthetic features with their Mesoamerican (particularly Aztec and Maya) antecedents. Among the outstanding contributions to come out of this exhibition are Delilah Montoya’s Codex Delilah, Six-Deer: Journey from Mexicatl to Chicana;19 and Carmen Lomas Garza’s Codex Lomas Garza: Pedacito de mi corazón.20 Both deploy the traditional screenfold format to present the themes of healing and inheritance. Raoul de la Sota’s Codex Delasota: Pages from the Family Scrapbook is also a screenfold of intergenerational memories, but simultaneously rendered as the distressed body of Quetzalcoatl. The elongated “feathered serpent” of Mesoamerica shows signs of knife wounds and fire damage.

Screenfolds produced during this period and sharing in the Chicano Codices ethos include Enrique Chagoya’s Tales from the Conquest/Codex (1992), and Chagoya’s subsequent collaboration with Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Felicia Rice, Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol (1998).21 Chagoya’s screenfolds combine precontact and colonial-era Mesoamerican motifs with images drawn from the Western art historical canon and pop culture. In the catalog for the Pre-Columbian Remix exhibition at the Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase College, State University of New York, April 28–July 14, 2013), Serge Gruzinski notes the power of anachronism that historians are seemingly forbidden from harnessing:

Anachronism remains a capital sin for historians. Mixing periods and events means no longer following the flow of time; in other words, confusing the present with the past and disregarding the usual rules. Yet do historians hold the monopoly on history?

Why couldn’t the writing of history pass through other media and other forms of logic?22

The alternative media and forms of logic that remix cultures have long embraced are relevant not only to the writing of history but also, as Karen Mary Davalos develops in Chicana/o Remix, to collection and curation, knowledge production and interpretation, and critiques of the art historical canon.23

Related to these forbidden anachronisms are the mixed and/or substitute temporalities of Chicana, Afro-, Indigenous, and other futurisms. In these broad categories of literary and artistic practices, individuals from diasporic, oppressed, or marginalized communities create narratives in which they question or modify the concepts of science, technology, and civilization—concepts that are so fundamental to Western measures of “progress”—and center their communities in new visions for the future.24 From this starting point, writers and artists create the worlds they wish to occupy. They become active agents who are unhindered by past and present attempts to erase nondominant histories and cultural knowledge.

Like Chagoya’s anachronistic screenfolds, which inspired Gruzinski’s comments, the alternative book histories of other Latin American and Latinx artists reflect the past without treating it as absolute, linear, or sacrosanct. Unexpected conjunctions of visual cultures in the decolonial remix, and especially those that present transhistorical or cyclical conceptions of time, disrupt the timeline used to uphold the androcentric fiction of progress and European/Anglo-American exceptionalism. For some Chicanx artists, there is sometimes an additional dimension to the reconfiguring of time and space. In his discussion of Aztlán as both place of origin and sacred time, Davíd Carrasco explains, “We can have access to this creative, liminal phase of existence if we can just find a way to reconnect with Aztlán/Chicomóztoc. The Indigenous belief is that our human time today becomes fuller when we find openings to the ancestral times that are available—if only we know where and when to seek the opening.”25 Thus, reconceptualizing time and space can constitute a form of restorative work that reestablishes the connections between each moment in the present and the time of gods and ancestors.

In addition to developing counterdiscourses, book artists have embraced materials-based strategies for reviving pre-Hispanic manuscript cultures. They select traditional substrates (e.g., amatl) and colorants that derive from local flora and fauna. For many, extending Indigenous techniques is comparable to, and sometimes complements, parallel movements to preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages.

In 1975, the American poet Ámbar Past founded Taller Leñateros (Woodlanders Workshop) in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, and collaborated with the Indigenous women to transcribe their Tzotzil-language poetry and produce books using Maya bookbinding methods. The first of these was Conjuros y ebriedades, cantos de mujeres mayas (Conjuring Spells and Drinking Songs of Mayan Women) (Tzotzil-Spanish, 1998; with the Tzotzil-English edition published in 2005 as Incantations by Mayan Women). The original 200-page volume, with its bilingual text, silkscreened illustrations, and sculptural cover, required the efforts of 150 people over twenty-three years.26 The workshop, which currently self-identifies as “a cultural society, an alliance of Mayan and mestizo women and men,” is still committed to

the documentation, praise and dissemination of Amerindian and popular cultural values: song, literature and plastic arts; the rescue of old and endangered techniques such as the extraction of dyes from wild plants; and generating worthwhile and decently-paid employment for women and men who have no studies, no career, no future.27

In a space dedicated to training and employment for marginalized communities, the movement to recuperate and preserve Indigenous languages and craft practices goes hand in hand with encouraging new, unexpected combinations of media: “we photocopy the fossil of a tropical leaf, the texture of a seashell. We relearn hand-printing techniques: xylography, basketography, petalography. We reinvent the unicorn so that its horn will perforate a cardboard pinhole camera.”28

The multimedia artist Mariana Castillo Deball (from Mexico, now based in Berlin) is deeply invested in the study of traditional materials and techniques but has also translated Mesoamerican illustrations into unexpected forms, for instance in her 2011 El dónde estoy va desapareciendo (The where I am is vanishing), an installation produced for the Fifty-Fourth Venice Biennale (ILLUMInations) in cooperation with the Barbara Wien gallery in Berlin.29 The works she grouped together included ink drawings on a ten-meter-long roll and an accompanying ten-minute video projected nearby (fig. 2). The ensemble recounts the “life” of the Codex Borgia, which the personified book also narrates in the video’s first-person subtitles and multilingual soundtrack.

Figure 2.

Mariana Castillo Deball, El dónde estoy va desapareciendo, 2011, version from the exhibition Amikejo: Uqbar (Irene Kopelman & Mariana Castillo Deball), Laboratorio 987, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León, Spain, June 24–September 12, 2011), single-channel video, black-and-white, sound, 10:00 (photograph by Latitudes, Barcelona; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] license,

Figure 2.

Mariana Castillo Deball, El dónde estoy va desapareciendo, 2011, version from the exhibition Amikejo: Uqbar (Irene Kopelman & Mariana Castillo Deball), Laboratorio 987, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, León, Spain, June 24–September 12, 2011), single-channel video, black-and-white, sound, 10:00 (photograph by Latitudes, Barcelona; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] license,

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The Codex Borgia is a ritual book from East-Central Mexico named (according to the convention Sánchez-Tranquilino decries) after Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731–1804), who had it in his private collection before the Vatican Library acquired it.30 Antiquarians and anthropologists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries began to give serious attention to this and related divinatory books—the so-called Codex Borgia Group—after their images were published as line drawings and lithographs.31 In a way, this represented an attempt to “translate” or reproduce pre-Hispanic images as a means of understanding them. In contrast, Castillo Deball’s translation work allows the book to speak for itself—and even to mourn its time in the private collections of its European saviors.

The high-definition video pans along Castillo Deball’s hand-drawn scroll from right to left, the reading direction of the Codex Borgia. For the drawings, she re-created iconography from multiple sources, including the scene of migration from Aztlán in the Codex Azcatitlan and Diego Muñoz Camargo’s Historia de Tlaxcala (presented to King Philip II in 1585), from which she excerpted the illustration of Franciscan friars burning traditional books and attire.32 The manuscript narrates its creation, near destruction, and subsequent journey: “No one opened my pages to repeat their histories / I began to forget where I came from / my shapes went mute,” it laments, going on to describe how it joined many other artifacts in a “cemetery of cryptic drawings.” Through motion picture and a new combination of text and image, the “entombed histories” are revived and repeated as unbound, projected light. As a decolonial intervention, the work reassigns historical agency and amplifies a marginalized perspective, yet its approach to doing so is uncommon in giving voice to the object itself.

In more recent works, Castillo Deball has continued to experiment with radical shifts in dimension and medium. Her installations designed to fill entire gallery spaces represent literal expansions of source materials and the perspectives they represent. She has exhibited large-scale, incised wooden floors as translations of maps by or based on those of Indigenous cartographers.33 Like other artists who have disrupted the conventions of European maps (e.g., Joaquín Torres-García, Gilbert “Magu” Luján), Castillo Deball challenges the historical constructions of cartography as an objective or scientific process.34 Her work can also be seen within a long tradition of monumental stone plans (or piedras-mapas) in which a surrounding landscape is traced not onto a portable substrate but rather sculpted into fixed, immovable stone.35 In restaging her sources, Castillo Deball reveals that alternative mappings are still possible.

In Tlilli in Tlapalli: imágenes de la nueva tierra; identidad indígena después de la conquista (In Tlilli in Tlapalli: Images of the New Earth; Indigenous Identities after the Conquest) was an exhibition at the Museo Amparo, Puebla (September 1–November 26, 2018), for which Castillo Deball collaborated with researcher Diana Magaloni Kerpel to produce wall paintings and installations that appeared alongside facsimiles of colonial codices.36 In Magaloni Kerpel’s assessment, the reproduced codices make clear that Indigenous painting after the conquest was more than simple observation and representation; the opportunity for the tlacuiloque (the Nahuatl word for painter-scribes) to paint what they had lost was the opportunity to make it exist again—to re-create the world and territorialize, through their creativity, what was taken from them.37 The presence of printed and projected facsimiles in the exhibition was not simply instructive; these surrogates also reminded visitors of the foreign claims upon and inaccessibility of the originals, raising questions about the notion of owning the past.

The work that Castillo Deball created to complement those early colonial images closed the distance between past and present, absence and presence, not by copying the originals (as the digital surrogates in the exhibition did), but by engaging in the long tradition of creating anew. Drawing on Magaloni Kerpel’s analyses of the colors in the twelve-volume Florentine Codex (completed c. 1577), Castillo Deball collaborated with Tatiana Falcón to arrange the corresponding plants and minerals within a courtyard (fig. 3). The symbolic arrangement of the garden matched the first page of the preconquest Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, with its quadripartite cosmic diagram arranged around a central deity (see fig. 1).38 The manuscript image links time and space: the continuous sequence of the ritual calendar flows through the cardinal directions, marked by associated gods, trees, birds, and symbolic colors. Castillo Deball expands this schema to larger spaces of encounter and interaction, playing with the fact that its composition represents a far larger reality than can be bounded by the page.

Figure 3.

Mariana Castillo Deball (with the assistance of Tatiana Falcón), courtyard of the Museo Amparo during the exhibition In Tlilli in Tlapalli: imágenes de la nueva tierra; identidad indígena después de la conquista, September 1–November 26, 2018, Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (photograph © Museo Amparo)

Figure 3.

Mariana Castillo Deball (with the assistance of Tatiana Falcón), courtyard of the Museo Amparo during the exhibition In Tlilli in Tlapalli: imágenes de la nueva tierra; identidad indígena después de la conquista, September 1–November 26, 2018, Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (photograph © Museo Amparo)

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The Los Angeles–based Chicana painter Sandy Rodriguez, who grew up in Southern California and Tijuana, produces folios of painted specimens (botanical, animal) and large-scale maps on amatl sourced from a multigenerational Otomí family in Puebla.39 The pieces belong collectively to an unbound work in progress, the Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón, whose component parts are exhibited in different multimedia installations: usually a large map (sometimes with a separate map key), a series of folios, a kinetic light sculpture, and displays of raw materials. The Codex should not simply be reassembled mentally in a conventional form. Rodriguez deliberately discards the definition of the book inherited from European manuscript and print practices, in which a fixed order of regularized pages imposes a linear/singular conception of time. Instead, the Codex is expansive, representing multiple perspectives and histories simultaneously and mapping them onto its depicted terrains. It also represents knowledge recuperation and cocreation; Rodriguez relies not only on the participation of the Otomí amatl makers but also on the expertise of colleague scholars specializing in historical pigment analysis.

Rodriguez’s practice as a painter draws literally from nature, and particularly from the landscapes of the western United States, a region that was part of Mexico prior to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. During periods of fieldwork, she immerses herself in a site and its past, while also collecting and observing the local medicinal and utilitarian plants. She collects the resources of a place to produce organic colorants with which she then represents the region, sometimes creating her pen from a found feather after drawing it and identifying its associated species.40 These practices connect land and representation in a very direct way; as Charlene Villaseñor Black has argued, the Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón performs a form of reconquista or reclamation of stolen land.41 Rodriguez’s use of color also stands in symbolically for entire marginalized and targeted groups in the area’s past and present.

One of Rodriguez’s most enduring influences has been the Florentine Codex, a bilingual (Nahuatl and Spanish) illustrated encyclopedia of Nahua culture and language. While the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún oversaw the project, it was executed over decades by Nahua tlacuiloque.42 Book 12, which recounts the events of the conquest, is one of the many sections from which Rodriguez draws inspiration. This final volume opens with a large prefatory image, the only frontispiece of its type, with the Spanish fleet passing under a rainbow and landing on the coast of Mexico.43 The rainbow was the pre-Hispanic portent of cosmic change as well as a symbol of the layered sky and underworld, and sometimes of serenity;44 for its sixteenth-century Christian audiences, it was a polyvalent biblical sign tied to God’s covenant after the flood but also a sign of Christ’s imminent return at the end of time. Together, these readings reinforce the mutual symbolism of a gateway between zones, and of creation, destruction, and re-creation.45

A similar view unfolds below a monumental rainbow in the diptych Rainbows Grizzlies and Snakes, Oh My! Conquest to Caging in Los Angeles (2019; fig. 4). Like many of the maps in the Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón, it collapses several realities and temporalities. The title of Rodriguez’s map refers to the “lions and tigers and bears” of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. One might hope for the rainbow to represent a boundary beyond which “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true” (in Dorothy’s words), but instead it ushers in a set of “calavera copters” (fig. 5). These omnipresent skull-cockpit helicopters appear throughout the Codex and Rodriguez’s earlier painting and sculpture (as well as other artists’ works), ever ready to police the residents of her painted landscapes. In the waters below, patrol boats have replaced the imperial ships, working with the copters to uphold the state-sanctioned violence of the sixteenth century and beyond.

Figure 4.

Sandy Rodriguez, Rainbows Grizzlies and Snakes, Oh My! Conquest to Caging in Los Angeles, 2019, hand-processed watercolor on amatl paper, full diptych 94½ × 94 in. (240 × 239 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by AHAN: Studio Forum, 2019 Art Here and Now purchase (photograph provided by the artist)

Figure 4.

Sandy Rodriguez, Rainbows Grizzlies and Snakes, Oh My! Conquest to Caging in Los Angeles, 2019, hand-processed watercolor on amatl paper, full diptych 94½ × 94 in. (240 × 239 cm). Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by AHAN: Studio Forum, 2019 Art Here and Now purchase (photograph provided by the artist)

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Figure 5.

Sandy Rodriguez, detail of right panel of Rainbows Grizzlies and Snakes, Oh My! Conquest to Caging in Los Angeles, 2019

Figure 5.

Sandy Rodriguez, detail of right panel of Rainbows Grizzlies and Snakes, Oh My! Conquest to Caging in Los Angeles, 2019

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Rodriguez sets a flock of angered hummingbirds in opposition to the calavera copters that descend toward the Mojave Desert. These birds represent the long-distance migrants that pass through the region as well as those hummingbirds native to Los Angeles. Unlike the lions and tigers and bears that frighten the protagonists in The Wizard of Oz, the animals populating Rodriguez’s map are, along with all of nature, witnesses to perpetual atrocities and suffering.46 Victims of the first smallpox outbreak in 1520 lie dead and dying, their representations transferred from the Florentine Codex.47 Rodriguez places them at the sites of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Missions, two of twenty-one Franciscan missions established in the eighteenth century as part of the Spanish expedition into and occupation of Alta California. San Gabriel, founded on Tongva territory in 1771, was a site of forced conversion and abuse, including the earliest human caging in the territory.48 The region had been one of the most densely inhabited of North America before the campaign of genocide that reduced a population of 310,000 in 1769 to fewer than 20,000 in 1900.49 In her mapping and chronicling of settler violence, Rodriguez relied heavily on Kelly Lytle Hernández’s City of Inmates, a review of the long rise of human incarceration in Los Angeles.50

Like the Florentine Codex, written over decades, the Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón represents a long-term project of knowledge accumulation and parallel practices of memory and documentation. It also celebrates human survival and the ability of persecuted populations to maintain a spirit of resistance during seemingly apocalyptic circumstances—“end times” that keep repeating themselves.

Artists do not always rely on specific pre-Hispanic or early colonial models to evoke the Mesoamerican book. For his sculptural Āmoxtli (2018), titled with the Nahuatl word for “book,” Carlos Colín (Mexico) repurposed a box used to import Mexican-grown produce to Canada via the United States (fig. 6).51 Āmoxtli belongs to a tradition of artists’ objects and assemblages whose aesthetic is sometimes termed rasquachismo, adapted (especially among Chicanx artists) from the Mexican concept of rasquache, something left over or valueless.52 In the context of art, rasquachismo is an “underdog” aesthetic that often entails assigning inventive new purposes to all things broken, discarded, or quotidian, elevating those materials to create a new aesthetic that defies “taste” or ideas of high art. In The Chicano Codices exhibition, for example, this practice is evident in the work of Barbara Carrasco, whose autobiographical Codex Carrasco: Projex is a collage of personal photographs and mementos, images from popular culture, and brand-name product labels (e.g., SPAM, Tang); or in the work of Lawrence M. (Larry) Yáñez, whose Codex Yáñez: Xata Nalga Xolo Xuxu is a train of painted boxes cotaining toys, modified lids from canned goods, and other collaged elements.53 For these miniature folk altars (cajitas), Yáñez took his inspiration from the practice of reusing empty fruit boxes and transforming the mundane into the sacred. Āmoxtli, a used box elevated to the status of venerable artifact, similarly reflects the process of inversion common to much rasquachismo.

Figure 6.

Carlos Colín, Āmoxtli, 2018, cardboard, 10 ⅝    × 60 in (26.9 × 152.4 cm) (photograph provided by the artist)

Figure 6.

Carlos Colín, Āmoxtli, 2018, cardboard, 10 ⅝    × 60 in (26.9 × 152.4 cm) (photograph provided by the artist)

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Colín’s cardboard screenfold presents a subtle message of critique in accord with the themes of Comida es medicina (Food is medicine), an exhibition at San Francisco’s Galería de la Raza (August 4–November 2, 2018).54 His strategic choice of reused materials responds to cocurators Suzy González and Luz Calvo’s call for art that

reclaims indigenous food knowledge; critiques the current globalized food system (NAFTA, agribusiness, labor exploitation, Monsanto, GMO, etc.); and/or highlights the multiple ways that contemporary Latinx/Chicanx communities are developing their own visions of food justice, decolonization, plant-based diets, and community healing. This exhibition seeks to contest white supremacy by uplifting the knowledge, traditions, and practices of immigrant and indigenous members of our Latinx communities in relation to food, ancestral knowledge, and respect for Mother Earth.55

Beginning from the theme of ancestral foods, Colín chose a cardboard box from Aztlán Organic, whose logo incorporates the so-called Calendar Stone (or Sun Stone; c. 1502–19), among the most famous works of Aztec sculpture.56 Aztlán, the Mexica place of origin, encompasses the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Its transcendence of the modern-day US-Mexico border is one of the reasons Aztlán has been important to Chicanx authors, musicians, and artists reclaiming it as a homeland that is not a peripheral borderland.57 The symbolism of the box’s branding makes it immediately recognizable as a generalized Mesoamerican screenfold, but it also draws attention to larger issues: the very real effects of borders on trade agreements and labor regulation; and the commodification of Indigenous identity to sell a product on its authenticity, in this case the organic spaghetti squash that traveled from Mexico to Canada, where Colín (who made the same journey) currently lives.

The Peruvian chronicler Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala (c. 1534–c. 1615), both an Indigenous Andean and a Christian, addressed El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (The First New Chronicle and Good Government; c. 1615) to King Felipe III of Spain.58 In an extensively illustrated text, Guamán Poma traces the history of Andean society from before the arrival of the Spanish to the effects of colonial rule on local populations (e.g., forced labor, confiscation of property, acts of violence perpetrated by the clergy and colonial administrators). Guamán Poma wrote the text in Spanish, with occasional Quechua and Aymara, and included nearly four hundred full-page pen-and-ink illustrations.

For artists interested in book history, Guamán Poma’s chronicle remains important for two reasons. First, there are no written artifacts (in a conventional sense) from the pre-Hispanic Andes. The chronicle offers a wealth of text and image for Andean remixing, while simultaneously serving as a reminder that pictorial codices were a colonial imposition based on limited notions of effective knowledge transfer. Second, Guamán Poma’s illustrations represent an Indigenous artist’s adaptation of European woodcuts, which he modified for the purposes of social critique, making them relevant to his own local and contemporary concerns.59 Mary Louise Pratt describes how Guamán Poma “took over the official Spanish genre for his own ends,” creating a work of autoethnography in which he “infiltrated” the conquerors’ own idioms.60 Walter D. Mignolo likewise identifies him as the foundational and best-known case of decolonial thinking.61 Contemporary artists reworking the Nueva corónica often do so in a similar spirit of decolonial critique.

In 2006, Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza (Ecuador, based in Paris) created her first site-specific mural of a page from Guamán Poma’s chronicle (fig. 7).62 She executed una cierta idea del paraíso 1. este oro comemos (según Guamán Poma de Ayala) (a certain idea of paradise 1. we eat this gold [after Guamán Poma de Ayala]) for the Attitudes contemporary art space in Geneva.63 Projecting a full-page illustration and retracing it at an imposing new scale, she reconfigured an image of exchange between an Inca and a conquistador.64 The Inca king Huaina Capac holds a plate of gold nuggets and, speaking in Quechua, asks an officer of the Spanish navy, “Cay coritacho micunqui?” (“Is this the gold you eat?”), to which the officer replies, “Este oro comemos” (“We eat this gold”), a reference to the consuming lust for gold that characterized the crown and its emissaries.65 The “ink” with which Peñafiel Loaiza traced the image onto the white wall was Swiss chocolate derived from Ecuadorian cacao, a reference to transatlantic trade and continued resource exploitation, themes meant to apply to Geneva as the site of the mural’s first exhibition. The temporary mural’s scale and textures vary with each restaging, but its message abides.

Figure 7.

Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza, una cierta idea del paraíso 1. este oro comemos (según Guamán Poma de Ayala), 2006, version from the exhibition Chaupi-Aequator: Art contemporain de l’Equateur, Maison de l’Amérique latine, Paris, May 25–July 20, 2016, Swiss chocolate, variable sizes (photograph provided by the artist)

Figure 7.

Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza, una cierta idea del paraíso 1. este oro comemos (según Guamán Poma de Ayala), 2006, version from the exhibition Chaupi-Aequator: Art contemporain de l’Equateur, Maison de l’Amérique latine, Paris, May 25–July 20, 2016, Swiss chocolate, variable sizes (photograph provided by the artist)

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Other artists have also redrawn or painted their own versions of images from the Nueva corónica to apply them to more recent sociopolitical circumstances.66 In 2004, artist Falco (Fernando Falconí, Ecuador) initiated his ongoing Nueva crónica y mal gobierno (New Chronicle and Bad Government).67 He describes his process of appropriation and intervention as a means to “approach and reflect on the current realities and particularities of our societies in Indo-Afro-Latin America, from my condition, from my perspective, readings, and writings, from my being, feeling, and behaving as an Ecuadorian, Andean, and Latin American citizen-artist.”68

While many of Falco’s compositions address problems he feels are relevant to multiple Latin American countries—for example, corruption, impunity, violence, nepotism, and partitocracy69—others cover lesser-known events specific to Ecuador. In one composition, Falco depicts the attempted assassination in February 2004 of Leonidas Iza, the president of the Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE, Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) (fig. 8). Falco includes the notably violent details of one attacker hitting Iza’s wife, Josefina Anguisaca, in the face, while another kicks one of Iza’s relatives in the head—the latter a specific category of violence that appears throughout Guamán Poma’s own illustrations.

Figure 8.

Falco, page 5 of Nueva crónica y mal gobierno, 2004, ink on treated paper, 8 × 6 in. (20.4 × 15 cm) (photograph provided by the artist)

Figure 8.

Falco, page 5 of Nueva crónica y mal gobierno, 2004, ink on treated paper, 8 × 6 in. (20.4 × 15 cm) (photograph provided by the artist)

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In her writing on Guamán Poma, Pratt notes the transcultural character of his work, transculturation being an active process (in contrast to acculturation or assimilation) “whereby members of subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted by a dominant or metropolitan culture.”70 Active selection and translation are frequent in the work of Andrés Pereira Paz (Bolivia), not only in his shifting of visual motifs across media but also from the standpoint of gestural and linguistic communication.71 Starting again from the Nueva corónica, Pereira Paz excerpts individual gestures from Guamán Poma’s chronicle and re-creates them as galvanized wire installations for his long-term Guamán series. In Guamán I (2016–17), the excerpts are gestures of violence and misunderstanding (fig. 9). Although Pereira Paz strips bodily extremities from their larger contexts, Guamán Poma’s own emphasis on abusive treatment comes more sharply into focus, for instance with the images of feet (originally stepping on or kicking members of the Indigenous community) and hands preparing to mete out cruel and indiscriminate punishments.

Figure 9.

Andrés Pereira Paz, Guamán I, 2016–17, galvanized wire, variable dimensions (photograph provided by the artist)

Figure 9.

Andrés Pereira Paz, Guamán I, 2016–17, galvanized wire, variable dimensions (photograph provided by the artist)

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Guamán IV: Astrólogo y Poeta (2018) represents the hat and walking cane of a poet and astrologer who, according to Guamán Poma’s caption, understands the sun, moon, eclipses, and stars—and by extension all of the calendrical information essential to the sowing of food. In the source drawing, the figure holds a khipu in his left hand.72 The Inca khipukamayuqs, or knot makers, recorded information through different combinations of cords (primary, pendant, subsidiary), fiber type, knot structure, ply/hitching direction, and color. The empire of the Inca, extending from modern-day Ecuador to Chile, depended on the governance of ten million people—land records, genealogical information, taxes and tributes, commodity distribution—made possible through this sophisticated record keeping.73

Systems of writing developed far earlier than the codex and certainly do not require it or any other specific sign carrier. Furthermore, the encoding of information precedes writing and, again, certainly does not require it. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Europeans were quick to describe and destroy the documents they most readily understood by analogy to the printed book and its medieval manuscript antecedents.74 They did not react with equally destructive urgency in the face of writing on stone monuments and ceramic vessels. The khipu, with its lack of graphic signs or inscribed surfaces, was even less comprehensible in terms of a European book, despite the word text (and the Latin textus) deriving from the Latin verb texere, to weave or intertwine.75

The Quechua word quilca (sometimes quelca) and its verbal form quellcani—which sixteenth- and seventeenth-century colonial dictionaries struggled to define as “book,” “letter,” “writing,” “embroidery,” and even “sculpting” and “painting”—defied straightforward translation precisely because these terms are ambivalent.76 Like the Latin textus with its combined inscription and weaving references, quilca could evoke multiple materials or processes simultaneously. Guamán Poma himself applied it both to the Spanish uses of paper and to khipus. In its pre-Hispanic contexts, it may have referred more generally to expression, possible in different media, through color symbolism.77 Part of Pereira Paz’s decolonial intervention is to work toward multimedia expression that far exceeds the boundaries of “book,” “letter,” “writing,”…even when using a codex as his starting point.

For Pereira Paz and other artists in dialogue with the pre-Columbian Andes and its modes of communication, textiles can be as much a part of interrogating colonial legacies. Andrés Pereira Paz: BLUE EYES, the artist’s first solo exhibition (The RYDER Projects, London, May 11–June 16, 2018), included not only a piece from the Guamán series, with its excerpted gestures of abuse and execution, but also sculptural objects with modified textiles, including Blue eyes (after the Inca experience) (2016), built from trekking sticks and a modified Bolivian textile.78 Curator Aina Pomar explains its place within the larger context of the exhibition: “Drawing upon an understanding of textiles as texts, Pereira Paz embroiders several blue eyes on a textile from Tarabuco, a town exposed to a dramatic increase of European tourism which in the long-term has helped to convey an exotic image of the foreigner, here epitomised by the blue eyes.”79 As with many of the artists who interrogate the long-term effects of European presence in the Andes, Pereira Paz creates meaning through the juxtapositions of unexpected or seemingly incompatible elements.

As tactile chronicles, khipus have inspired Chilean writer and multimedia artist Cecilia Vicuña to entwine book- and fiber-based arts, but also politics and poetry.80 In 1973, she produced a small artist’s book in reaction to the violent US-backed coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on September 11 of that year.81 One of the book’s openings features a blood-red khipu that cuts through a page, and through an image of the Chilean flag. Other artists’ books and collections of Vicuña’s poetry have also appeared as limited-edition objects with threads that bind or puncture them, for example La realidad es una línea (1994), Palabra e Hilo / Word & Thread (1996), Hilur (1997), and Beforehand (2011).82

Vicuña’s Chanccani Quipu (2012) is a hybrid sculptural book that consolidates the concepts of khipu and book even more explicitly (fig. 10).83 The words of a poem appear stenciled onto unspun wool and take the place of the khipu’s customary knots. In the accompanying pamphlet, Instruction Manual and Orientation to Various Meanings, Vicuña notes the role of embodiment and performance in the khipu’s animation:

It is a prayer for the rebirth of a way of writing with breath, a way of perceiving the body and the cosmos as a whole engaged in a continuous reciprocal exchange.

In Quechua the writer/reader of the quipu was called: quipucamayoc (khipukamayuq), literally: “the one that animates, gives life to the knot.”

Figure 10.

Cecelia Vicuña, Chanccani Quipu, 2012, unspun wool and bamboo, 18½ × 18¼ × 4 in. (47 × 46.4 × 10.2 cm) in box (photographs by Tom Damrauer, courtesy Granary Books, New York)

Figure 10.

Cecelia Vicuña, Chanccani Quipu, 2012, unspun wool and bamboo, 18½ × 18¼ × 4 in. (47 × 46.4 × 10.2 cm) in box (photographs by Tom Damrauer, courtesy Granary Books, New York)

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As an enduring part of Vicuña’s oeuvre, the knotted threads of the khipu have served as metaphorical and literal means of integrating different media, languages, and temporalities. Like other artists working with themes of suppressed knowledge and its rebirth, her artworks speak to repeated cycles of erasure. In mergers of installation and performance, for example the site-specific Quipu de Lamentos (2014) at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Santiago, Chile), Vicuña has used khipus as monuments to absence (of lost knowledge, of disappeared people) but also as signs of perseverance.84 Quipu de Lamentos, dedicated to the cry of the unheard (el “lloro de lo no oído”), supported the museum’s mission of drawing attention to human rights violations committed by the Chilean state between 1973 and 1990.85 Literary and cultural scholar Edgar Garcia writes of Vicuña’s khipu bundles as “a poetic form that confronts colonial erasure with the very materials that have endured that erasure,” a form that defies the more recent history of dictatorship, having “outlasted colonial torture, murder, and erasure to make a poetics of resistance present to this day.”86

Chanccani Quipu appeared at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in a show entirely organized around the idea of the khipu and “common threads.”87 For Unraveling Collective Forms (April 3–May 25, 2019) and its associated public programming, Open Quipu/Quipu Abierto, curator Daniela Lieja Quintanar complemented gallery works with special events (readings, performances, and workshops), inviting audiences “to interlace our own narratives in a khipu, to become talking knots. It is a way of both stringing together, and unraveling possibilities to reimagine ourselves.”88 While interlacing and unraveling serve as effective metaphors for khipu-inspired projects, they also point to a quality that applies more broadly to artists’ decolonial interventions, namely an engagement with the past that does not treat history as sacrosanct.

“Intermediality,” an umbrella term for phenomena that occur between media, has become a familiar concept within media studies, where the “between” includes the processes of transposing older works into newer media (often analogue-to-digital transpositions) or combining media to create new multimedia hybrids. The intermediality harnessed by artists who intervene into pre-Hispanic and early colonial book histories sometimes finds parallels in much older concepts of transformation as well. In their inaugural address for the In Tlilli in Tlapalli exhibition, Castillo Deball and Magaloni Kerpel discuss the Nahuatl word ixiptlah, meaning “image, substitute of something or someone.”89 This word is related to the verb xipehua, “to flay” or “to peel the skin,” and is connected to processes by which individuals, but also objects and paintings, can wear new skins or “the vestments of the other” and thereby come alive with new identities. These ideas of substitution, which involve neither copying nor destruction, are relevant to the discussion of artists who engage with “originals” in a way that gives them new life.

In many cases, artists in dialogue with pre-Hispanic and early colonial books counteract or highlight attempts to obliterate forms of knowing, thinking, and doing. But when transmuting their sources, contemporary Latin American and Latinx artists are not concerned with returning to an irrecoverable past or preserving what survives in the spirit of antiquarian collection. Instead, their works are transhistorical or multitemporal. The cultural anthropologist Néstor García Canclini first introduced “multitemporal heterogeneity” to describe accelerated and uneven urbanization in Latin America and the resulting urban palimpsests “in which modernization rarely operated through the substitution of the traditional and the ancient.”90 Going far beyond the “religious fusions or traditional symbolic environments” associated with syncretism, the concept of multitemporal heterogeneity encompasses, among other things, hybrid uses of language, combinations of “high” and popular culture, mixed architectural styles, and artifacts from various time periods intermingling in shared spaces. While multitemporal heterogeneity can refer to many unplanned phenomena, it is also a creative strategy certain artists use when developing alternative histories.91

Like the scribe-artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who participated in the world of the missionaries and “effected a new departure as much from pre-Hispanic as from European artistic configurations,” the artists of the twenty-first century do not simply produce as outsiders subsumed within colonial perspectives and chronologies.92 Inspired by the processes and forms of surviving pre-Columbian media, and often gesturing to the countless destroyed artifacts for which the few survivals must stand in, artists create alternative book histories and futures in which their spiritual or cultural practices can flourish and evolve. They look to the past to reorient alternative epistemologies toward local concerns and their aspirations for the future. In these ventures, Latin American and Latinx artists embrace innovation and the potential of new formats and platforms to push the definitions of the book even further. They not only excerpt and remix colonial iconographies, but also shift them across media to take advantage of the expressive and critical possibilities inherent in unconventional materials.

Anachronism, although usually applied to things combined from different periods conspicuously and inappropriately, is etymologically retrospective: ana- “backward” + khronos “time.” Although there are retrospective elements to all the works discussed herein, they are simultaneously innovative and transformative, qualities fundamental to their decoloniality. If artists reflect on past and continued injustice, it is with forward-looking intentions to redress, dismantle, and rebuild. And if they preserve or re-create forms and ways of knowing, it is never “clichéd and restrictive,” but rather infinitely generative.


For the meanings of book and the finer points of these distinctions in the Americas, see the contributions to Elizabeth Hill Boone and Walter D. Mignolo, eds., Writing without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994), and especially Walter D. Mignolo, “Signs and Their Transmission: The Question of the Book in the New World,” 220–70. See also Germaine Warkentin, “Dead Metaphor or Working Model? ‘The Book’ in Native America,” in Colonial Mediascapes: Sensory Worlds of the Early Americas, ed. Matt Cohen and Jeffrey Glover (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), 47–75, from which I have taken the phrase “objects of knowledge transfer.”


Alessandra Russo, The Untranslatable Image: A Mestizo History of the Arts in New Spain, 1500–1600, trans. Susan Emanuel (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014), 248.


Russo, Untranslatable Image, 249.


Maylei Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 14.


The importance of decolonial practices not only for artists but also for art workers more generally is clear from the “Open Letter from U.S. Latinx Art Workers on Anti-Black Racism and White Supremacy in Visual Art Institutions,” Decolonize Latinx Art, June 18, 2020, no longer accessible, It is worth repeating the open letter’s statement that “to position all Latinxs as people of color is to erase the hegemony of whiteness and white supremacy in our communities.”


On this theme, including the emergence of digital memory projects, see María Eugenia Cotera, “Unpacking Our Mothers’ Libraries: Practices of Chicana Memory before and after the Digital Turn,” in Chicana Movidas: New Narratives of Activism and Feminism in the Movement Era, ed. Dionne Espinoza, María Eugenia Cotera, and Maylei Blackwell (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018), 299–316. On the activism of Chicana femzines, see Norell Martínez, “Femzines, Artivism, and Altar Aesthetics: Third Wave Feminism Chicana Style,” Chiricú Journal 2, no. 2 (2018): 45–67.


Walter D. Mignolo and Catherine E. Walsh, On Decoloniality: Concepts, Analytics, Praxis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 3. On the distinctions between “decoloniality” and “decolonization,” see Mignolo’s chapter, “What Does It Mean to Decolonize?” at 105–34. See also Nelson Maldonado-Torres, “The Decolonial Turn,” in New Approaches to Latin American Studies: Culture and Power, ed. Juan Poblete (New York: Routledge, 2018), 111–27. For a lucid statement of an art historian’s decolonial praxis, see Karen Mary Davalos, Chicana/o Remix: Art and Errata since the Sixties (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 12–16.


The colonial imaginary and decolonial imaginary are theoretical constructs developed by historian Emma Pérez. See The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999) and “Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24, nos. 2/3 (2003): 122–31.


On these themes more generally, for which the bibliography is extensive, see the work of Emma Pérez as well as María Lugones, “Toward a Decolonial Feminism,” Hypatia 25, no. 4 (2010): 742–59; and Constance Cortez, “History/Whose-Story? Postcoloniality and Contemporary Chicana Art,” Chicana/Latina Studies 6, no. 2 (2007): 22–54.


Maldonado-Torres, “Decolonial Turn,” 122.


Germaine Warkentin, “Dead Metaphor or Working Model?” For my own definition of book, I have also taken inspiration from the introduction and contributions to Boone and Mignolo, Writing without Words.


On the remix, see Davalos, Chicana/o Remix; Patrice Giasson, “Pre-Columbian Remix and the Art of the Present,” in Pre-Columbian Remix: The Art of Enrique Chagoya, Demián Flores, Rubén Ortiz-Torres and Nadín Ospina, ed. Patrice Giasson (Purchase, NY: Neuberger Museum of Art, 2013), 13–29; and contributions to Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, and xtine burrough, eds., The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies (New York: Routledge, 2015).


This critique comes from Victor Zamudio-Taylor, “Inventing Tradition, Negotiating Modernism: Chicano/a Art and the Pre-Columbian Past,” in The Road to Aztlan: Art from a Mythic Homeland, ed. Virginia M. Fields and Victor Zamudio-Taylor (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2001), 342–57, reprinted in Chicano and Chicana Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Jennifer A. González, C. Ondine Chavoya, Chon Noriega, and Terezita Romo (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019), 123–34.


For an introduction to writing systems and surviving manuscripts, see the preface to Maarten E. R. G. N. Jansen, Virginia M. Lladó-Buisán, and Ludo Snijders, eds., Mesoamerican Manuscripts: New Scientific Approaches and Interpretations (Leiden: Brill, 2019), vii–xiii; and the six subentries under “Writing Systems” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures: The Civilizations of Mexico and Central America, ed. Davíd Carrasco (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 3:338–50.


Marcos Sánchez-Tranquilino, foreword to The Chicano Codices: Encountering Art of the Americas, ed. Patricia Draher (San Francisco: The Mexican Museum, 1992), 3.


See Draher, Chicano Codices.


Sánchez-Tranquilino, Chicano Codices, 3.


Jennifer A. González, introduction to González et al., Chicano and Chicana Art, 1.


Ann Marie Leimer, “Crossing the Border with ‘La Adelita’: Lucha-Adelucha as ‘Nepantlera’ in Delilah Montoya’s ‘Codex Delilah,’” Chicana/Latina Studies 5, no. 2 (2006): 12–59; Ann Marie Leimer, “La Conquistadora: A Conquering Virgin Meets Her Match,” Religion and the Arts 18 (2014): 245–68; and Laura Elisa Pérez, Chicana Art: The Politics of Spiritual and Aesthetic Altarities (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 205–56.


Constance Cortez, Carmen Lomas Garza (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2010), 60–79.


Sarah Kirk Hanley, “Visual Culture of the Nacirema: Chagoya’s Printed Codices,” Art in Print 1, no. 6 (2012): 3–15, accessed March 27, 2021,; Damián Baca, Mestiz@ Scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 63–93; and Damián Baca, “The Chicano Codex: Writing against Historical and Pedagogical Colonization,” College English 71, no. 6 (2009): 564–83.


Serge Gruzinski, “Cannibal Images: The Virtues of Anachronism and the Writing of History in Contemporary Art,” in Giasson, Pre-Columbian Remix, 51.


Davalos, Chicana/o Remix, especially the introduction.


See Robb Hernández, Tyler Stallings, and Joanna Szupinska-Myers, eds., Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas (Riverside, CA: UCR ARTSblock, 2017), and especially Kency Cornejo’s contribution, “Decolonial Futurisms: Ancestral Border Crossers, Time Machines, and Space Travel in Salvadoran Art,” 20–31; Catherine S. Ramírez, “Afrofuturism/Chicanafuturism: Fictive Kin,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 33, no. 1 (2008): 185–94; Ytasha Womack, Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013); and Suzanne Newman Fricke, “Introduction: Indigenous Futurisms in the Hyperpresent Now,” World Art 9, no. 2 (2019): 107–21, as well as the contributions to the special issue that Fricke’s piece introduces.


Davíd Carrasco, “What Is Aztlán? Homeland, Quest, Female Place,” in Routledge Handbook of Chicana/o Studies, ed. Francisco A. Lomelí, Denise A. Segura, and Elyette Benjamin-Labarthe (London: Routledge, 2019), 21.


Arturo Arias, Recovering Lost Footprints: Contemporary Maya Narratives (Albany: SUNY Press, 2018), 2:203–5.


“About Us,” Taller Leñateros, accessed March 27, 2021,


“About Us,” Taller Leñateros.


Melanie Roumiguière, ed., Mariana Castillo Deball: Parergon (Cologne: Walther König, 2014), 159–76. For more on the artist, see her personal website at


The digitized Codex Borgia (or Codex Yoalli Ehecatl, Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Borg. mess. 1) is available at, accessed March 27, 2021. On the symbolism of this and other divinatory manuscripts, see Elizabeth Hill Boone, Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007); and Maarten E. R. G. N. Jansen and Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez, Time and the Ancestors: Aztec and Mixtec Ritual Art (Leiden: Brill, 2017).


On this early period of modern editions and interpretation, see Boone, Cycles of Time, 6–10.


Codex Azcatitlan, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Mexicain 59-64, available digitized at, accessed March 27, 2021; Glasgow, University Library, MS Hunter 242 (U.3.15), fol. 242r.


Castillo Deball has specifically adapted the Nuremberg Map of Tenochtitlan (1524), the Uppsala Map (1550), and the Map of Teozacoalco (1580). On the source maps, see Barbara E. Mundy, The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geográficas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); and Alex Hidalgo, Trail of Footprints: A History of Indigenous Maps from Viceregal Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019). On some of Castillo Deball’s versions, see Roumiguière, Mariana Castillo Deball, 97–110. These floors were installed for the following exhibitions, respectively: Parergon (Hamburger Bahnhof, Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, September 20, 2014–March 1, 2015),; Vista de ojos (Kurimanzutto, Mexico City, July 1–September 6, 2014),; and Finding Oneself Outside (New Museum, New York City, January 22–May 5, 2019),


On active disruption of European cartography and the intertwining of time and space, see Karen Mary Davalos, “The Landscapes of Gilbert ‘Magu’ Luján: Imagining Emplacement in the Hemisphere,” in Aztlán to Magulandia: The Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert “Magu” Luján, ed. Constance Cortez and Hal Glicksman (Irvine: University Art Galleries, University of California, Irvine, 2017), 36–57.


Russo, Untranslatable Image, 200–201.


“In Tlilli in Tlapalli: imágenes de la nueva tierra; identidad indígena después de la conquista,” accessed March 27, 2021,


This is my paraphrase of the following original: “…el ejemplo de quienes vivieron la conquista, quienes perdieron frente a la invasión, y se tuvieron que recrear un nuevo mundo…era una oportunidad de volver a pintar el mundo, de volver a hacerlo existir para ellos, de territorializar con su creatividad el mundo que les fue quitado.” From “Charla inaugural | In Tlilli in Tlapalli. Imágenes de la nueva tierra,” inaugural talk with Diana Magaloni Kerpel and Mariana Castillo Deball at the Museo Amparo, September 1, 2018, video, 50:17, September 20, 2018, accessed March 10, 2021,


On the Florentine Codex (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Med. Palat. 218–220), see Jeanette Favrot Peterson and Kevin Terraciano, eds., The Florentine Codex: An Encyclopedia of the Nahua World in Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019); and Diana Magaloni Kerpel, The Colors of the New World: Artists, Materials, and the Creation of the Florentine Codex (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2014). The digitized volumes of this manuscript are available at, accessed November 26, 2021. On the first page of the Codex Fejérváry-Mayer, see Boone, Cycles of Time, 114–17.


On Sandy Rodriguez and her body of work, see the artist’s personal website at, as well as Ananda Cohen-Aponte and Ella Maria Diaz, “Painting Prophecy: Mapping a Polyphonic Chicana Codex Tradition in the Twenty-First Century,” English Language Notes 57, no. 2 (2019): 22–42; Charlene Villaseñor Black, “Art and Migration,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 44, no. 1 (2019): 1–16; and the exhibition catalog, Sandy Rodriguez, Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón (Riverside, CA: Riverside Art Museum, 2018), especially Villaseñor Black’s contribution, “Art as Reconquista: Sandy Rodriguez and the Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón,” 3–5.


Rodriguez sometimes extracts colorants from botanical specimens and sometimes grinds mica into earth and pigments (i.e., minerals), although she does not have the facilities to process minerals in her own studio. In contrast, organic colorants can be extracted with stovetop heat and then manipulated with acids, bases, and mordants to shift the color. My thanks to Rodriguez for clarifying these differences between pigments and colorants. Sandy Rodriguez, email message to the author, November 18, 2019.


Villaseñor Black, “Art as Reconquista,” 1–16, and “Art and Migration,” 7–9.


Kevin Terraciano, “Introduction: An Encyclopedia of Nahua Culture: Context and Content,” in Peterson and Terraciano, Florentine Codex, 1–18.


See Sahagún, Florentine Codex, Book 12, Library of Congress, accessed November 26, 2021,


Book 7 of the Florentine Codex states, “quando aparece es señal de serenidad” (fol. 12). See


Diana Magaloni Kerpel, “History under the Rainbow: The Conquest of Mexico in the Florentine Codex,” in Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, ed. Ilona Katzew (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2011), 78–94.


Rodriguez discussed nature’s role as witness in a talk at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. See “Artist’s Talk: Sandy Rodriguez presents ‘Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón,’” February 12, 2019, video, 51:17, posted February 13, 2019, accessed March 27, 2021,


Book 12 of the Florentine Codex (fol. 53v),


Kelly Lytle Hernández, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771–1965 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 21–26.


Hernández, City of Inmates, 40.


Sandy Rodriguez, email message to the author, November 15, 2019.


Carlos Colín, “Āmoxtli (Book/Libro),” artist’s website, accessed March 27, 2021,


See Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” in Chicano Aesthetics: Rasquachismo (Phoenix, AZ: MARS Artspace, 1989), 5–8; and Amalia Mesa-Bains, “Domesticana: The Sensibility of Chicana Rasquachismo,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 24, no. 2 (1999): 155–67. Both are reprinted in González et al., Chicano and Chicana Art, 85–90 and 91–99, respectively.


On these works, see Marcos Sánchez-Tranquilino, “The Chicano Codices: Feathered Reflections on an Aztlanic Archaeology,” in Draher, Chicano Codices, 9–11, 18–19.


“Galería de la Raza Presents Comida es Medicina,” Galería de la Raza, accessed March 27, 2021,


“Comida es Medicina—Open Call for Artists,” Galería de la Raza, accessed March 27, 2021,


The Calendar Stone is now in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City.


See Carrasco, “What Is Aztlán?”; and the various contributions to Rudolfo Anaya, Francisco A. Lomelí, and Enrique R. Lamadrid, eds., Aztlán: Essays on the Chicano Homeland, rev. ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017).


Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, The First New Chronicle and Good Government: On the History of the World and the Incas up to 1615, ed. and trans. Roland Hamilton (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009). The original manuscript is in Copenhagen, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, GKS 2232 4°, (accessed March 27, 2021).


Maarten van de Guchte, “Invention and Assimilation: European Engravings as Models for the Drawings of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala,” in Guaman Poma de Ayala: The Colonial Art of an Andean Author, ed. Rolena Adorno and Mercedes López-Baralt (New York: Americas Society, 1992), 92–109.


Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession (Modern Language Association, 1991): 34–35. See also the introduction to Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2008), 1–12.


Walter D. Mignolo, “Preamble: The Historical Foundation of Modernity/Coloniality and the Emergence of Decolonial Thinking,” in A Companion to Latin American Literature and Culture, ed. Sara Castro-Klaren (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 17, 24.


On the artist, see Marc Lenot, ed., Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza: fragments liminaires (Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2015). On this piece in particular, see the description on the artist’s website, February 3, 2016, accessed March 27, 2021,


The artist herself set the capitalization conventions for the title of the piece. Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza, email message to the author, November 8, 2019.


For the digitized original page, see Det Kongelige Bibliotek, accessed March 27, 2021,


For a discussion of this image, see Thomas B.F. Cummins, “The Golden Calf in America,” in The Idol in the Age of Art: Objects, Devotions and the Early Modern World, ed. Michael Wayne Cole and Rebecca Zorach (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 100–102.


Contemporary Peruvian examples include Pablo Macera and Santiago Forns’s Nueva crónica del Perú siglo XX, illustrated by Miguel Vidal (Lima: Fondo Editorial del Congreso del Perú, 2000); and two follow-up projects: Santiago Forns and Ismael Vega’s Nueva crónica del Perú siglo XXI, 2000–2003, illustrated by Luis Rossell (Lima: Amarilys, 2003); and Santiago Forns’s edited Nueva crónica del Perú 2000–2005 (Lima: Ediciones El Santo Oficio, 2006), which assembled contributions from multiple artists.


Falco, “Nueva Crónica y Mal Gobierno,” August 1, 2013, accessed March 27, 2021, For discussion, see also Julio César Abad Vidal, “La apropiación de Guamán Poma en el arte ecuatoriano contemporáneo,” in Pensar el arte: actas del coloquio sobre arte contemporáneo en Ecuador, ed. Julio César Abad Vidal (Cuenca: Universidad de Cuenca, 2014), 85–99.


Original: “La propuesta de Nueva Crónica y Mal Gobierno es una apropiación y una intervención del concepto narrativo y la estética gráfica de los citados códices de Guamán Poma para abordar y reflexionar realidades y particularidades actuales de nuestras sociedades en Indo-Afro-Latino América, desde mi condición, desde mi mirada, lectura y escritura, desde mi ser, sentir y operar como ciudadano-artista ecuatoriano, andino y latinoamericano.” My translation of a statement on Falco’s website, published in Falco, “Nueva crónica y mal gobierno (obra en progreso),” in Desenganche: visualidades y sonoridades otras (Quito: La Tronkal, 2010), 24.


These are represented as “wild social and political beasts.” Falco, “Nueva crónica y mal gobierno (obra en progreso),” September 2010, accessed March 27, 2021,


Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” 36.


See the artist’s portfolio at


View the original at On representations and reception of khipus, see Thomas B.F. Cummins, “Representation in the Sixteenth Century and the Colonial Image of the Inca,” in Boone and Mignolo, Writing without Words, 188–219; and Birgit Brander Rasmussen, “The Manuscript, the Quipu, and the Early American Book: Don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno,” in Cohen and Glover, Colonial Mediascapes, 141–65.


Gary Urton, Inka History in Knots: Reading Khipus as Primary Sources (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017). See also Urton’s Khipu Database Project at (accessed March 28, 2021).


Mignolo, “Signs and Their Transmission.”


Mignolo, “Signs and Their Transmission,” 234–37.


Galen Brokaw, “Semiotics, Aesthetics, and the Quechua Concept of Quilca,” in Cohen and Glover, Colonial Mediascapes, 166–202.


Brokaw, “Semiotics.”


Aina Pomar, “Andrés Pereira Paz: Blue Eyes,” The Ryder, (accessed March 28, 2021).


Pomar, “Andrés Pereira Paz.” For the semiotics of pre-Hispanic Andean textiles (and specifically their tocapu designs), see Cummins, “Colonial Image of the Inca,” 199–205; and Brokaw, “Semiotics,” 185–95.


See Julia Bryan-Wilson, Fray: Art and Textile Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 107–43; and Edgar Garcia, Signs of the Americas: A Poetics of Pictography, Hieroglyphs, and Khipu (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020), 185–212.


From the series Journal of Objects (for the Chilean Resistance). Bryan-Wilson, Fray, 120–22.


For publication details of individual books, see the listing on the artist’s website at (accessed March 28, 2021).


“Chanccani Quipu,” artwork description, Granary Books, accessed March 28, 2021,


“Quipu de Lamentos (2014),” artist’s website, accessed March 3, 2021,


“Artists for Democracy,” Fundación Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, accessed March 3, 2021,


Garcia, Signs of the Americas, 30, 186.


“Unraveling Collective Forms,” Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, accessed March 28, 2021,


“Programming Open Quipu/Quipu Abierto,” Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, accessed March 28, 2021,


See “Charla inaugural,” and also the discussion in Magaloni Kerpel, Colors of the New World, 10–13.


Néstor García Canclini, Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity, trans. Christopher L. Chiappari and Silvia L. López (1995; repr., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), 47.


Although the term multitemporal heterogeneity comes from García Canclini, I credit Charlene Villaseñor Black with introducing me to its application to contemporary visual art in her “Decolonizing Art History with Mexico’s ‘Tenth Muse,’ Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz,” keynote lecture at the Thirty-Seventh Art History Graduate Symposium, Florida State University, Tallahassee, March 5, 2021.


Russo, Untranslatable Image, 7.