The symposium is free and open to the public.

We encourage attendees to contact Connie Rhoton (crhoton@niu.edu, or 815-753-1474) to give us an idea of the audience size. Those who would like to purchase an on-site lunch, which will cost  $8.00, must pre-register by contacting Connie Rhoton.

Please report any site problems here.

The exhibition “Crafting Maya Identity: Contemporary Wood Sculptures from the Puuc Region of Yucatán, Mexico” considers woodcarvings by four contemporary Yucatec Maya artisans:  Miguel Uc Delgado, Jesús Marcos Delgado Kú, Angel Ruíz Novelo, and Wilbert Vázquez.  These finely detailed, hand-carved, and aesthetically engaging works are replicas of subjects based on ancient Maya sculptures, ceramics, and manuscripts. Produced for sale at archaeological sites in northern Yucatán, they are purchased principally by ‘cultural tourists’ who visit these sites on organized educational trips.Although the technically refined and visually complex carvings of the Puuc region are often described as handicraft or “tourist art,” it no longer seems appropriate to tag them with the pejorative connotations associated with such terms. Rather, they provide important information regarding how a relatively recent artistic “tradition” emerged in and responded to particular historical context, and communicates significant messages about the changing nature of Maya cultural identity.

The influx of cultural tourists to archaeological sites in the Puuc region provided the impetus for a group of entrepreneurial local artisans to combine opportunities for economic gain with creative expression. The Puuc carvings are a complex phenomenon and they present problematic images of “Maya” identity. Many tourists recognize them as being accurate facsimiles of ancient Maya imagery. This, coupled with the fact that they are handmade by a local “Maya” artisan, gives them a certain “authenticity” while providing a tangible reminder of a visit to the “Maya World.” The artisans recognize that a historical and cultural gulf separates them from the ancient Maya, yet feel a sense of pride in their distant ancestral heritage. While the carvings are made to supplement income, and vary in size, detail, and level of finish, Miguel, Angel, Jesús, and Wilbert make it clear that making these carvings provides them with sense of satisfaction and personal creative expression. Thus, although tourism tends to reinforce visitors’ ideas that the most authentic image of Maya culture resides in the Pre-Columbian past, the economic incentive it provides also has supported these artisans’ efforts to reclaim and re-task such cultural imagery, giving it new meanings that convey only one strand of their more complex contemporary cultural identities.

The exhibition and its catalog explores issues at the intersection of art, visual culture, cultural identities, authenticity, and globalization. It examines how identity is constructed, represented, and understood, both by the artisans themselves and tourist visitors, in the context of cross-cultural contact, mass media, and touristic promotion. It also considers the broader role of artists and the visual arts in society, and the study of such art forms in the context of changing conceptions of art and aesthetics. The result is a study that furthers scholarship on arts and tourism in general, while presenting the first comprehensive examination of the distinctive artworks produced by these Yucatec Maya carvers.

In a series of complementary catalog essays, Janet Berlo, Christopher Steiner, Quetzil Castañeda, Jeff Kowalski, and Mary Katherine Scott provide individualized studies of Native American, African, and Mesoamerican aesthetic artifacts in relation to the issues outlined above, introducing more specialized observations and perspectives on these problems.