Symposium Information: "Globalization, Tourism, Cultural Identity, Authenticity, and Art"

Held in conjunction with the exhibition, “Crafting Maya Identity: Contemporary Wood Sculptures from the Puuc Region, Yucatán”

A scholarly symposium on issues of globalization, tourism, cultural identity, authenticity, and art will take place on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. The event will be held in Room 200 of Barsema Hall Main Auditorium which houses the College of Business. Coffee will be available at 8:30 am, and presentations and a concluding discussion period will take place from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, with a lunch break from 12:00 noon to 1:30.

Symposium Program

8:15-8:45 am

Greeting Period (coffee and pastries).

8:45-9:15 am

Opening Remarks and Introduction – Jeff Kowalski and Mary Katherine Scott.

9:15-10:00 am

Art, Tourist Art and Tourism: the Case of the Canadian Inuit – Nelson Graburn

10:10-10:55 am

Native American Artistic Creativity and Commodity Culture – Janet C. Berlo

11:05-11:50 am

The Image of Africa and its Relationship to Commerce – Christopher Steiner

Noon to 1:30 pm

Lunch Break
A delicious catered box lunch is available for $8.00, please preorder at 815-753-1474 by Sept. 11.
During the break please visit the Crafting Maya Identity exhibition in the Jack Olson Gallery of the School of Art,
or the companion exhibition on Tourist Art: Exploring Authenticity in a Museum Collection in the NIU Anthropology Museum in Stevens Hall.

1:30-2:15 pm

Representing the Maya: When is it appropriate to call “Appropriations” Art? – Mary Katherine Scott

2:20-3:05 pm

Thrice Built: Uxmal and Constructions of Maya Identity – Jeff Kowalski

3:10-3:55 pm

Aesthetics and the Ambivalence of Maya Modernity: The Ethnography of Maya Art – Quetzil Castañeda

4:00-4:45 pm

Panel Discussion and Question Period

5:00-6:00 pm

Reception in the Jack Olson Gallery, School of Art, NIU

All are invited to a special viewing of the Crafting Maya Identity exhibition and a reception with the symposium speakers and visiting artists, Miguel Uc Delgado, Jesús Delgado Kú, Angel Ruíz Novelo, and Wilbert Vázquez, in the Jack Olson Gallery of the School of Art.


Symposium Speakers

In the series of essays the contributors provide individualized studies of aesthetic artifacts in relation to many of the issues outlined above,
as well as introducing some of their own observations and perspectives on these problems

Nelson Graburn
University of California, Berkeley

Janet Berlo
University of Rochester

Christopher Steiner
Connecticut College

Nelson Graburn “Art, Tourist Art, and Tourism: The Case of the Canadian Inuit” 

Dr. Graburn's presentation discusses the impact of tourism on the Intuit people of Canada, and its effect on commercialization and development of new types and media for art forms, with a special emphasis on film as an art form and a medium of prestige and image formation than was the focus of previous discussions of this topic. He hopes to include several media clips as illustrative examples in his talk.

Janet Catherine Berlo “Native American Artistic Creativity and Commodity Culture” 

Janet Berlo examines several types of aesthetic artifacts that were primarily produced by Native North Americans for collection by outsiders. She discusses a series of representative objects, including Plains Indian drawings, Haida argillite carvings, Alaskan tourist arts (including miniature replicas of functional objects, as well as ivory carvings), basketry of the California Karuk weaver Elizabeth Hickox, Iroquowww.pais beadwork, and tourist arts of the Southwest. She examines issues of commoditization, commercialization, and cultural identity, outlining the distinctive character of these works as each emerged from a matrix of historical change and culture contact that affected but was also consciously utilized by Native people to create new types of aesthetic expressions aimed at new audiences. Often taking hybrid forms, these expressions represent various combinations of both older and newer techniques, materials, or subject matters. Although they often catered to White expectations about what “Indian” arts and crafts should look like, they also permitted their creators to maintain a sense of their ethnic identity and agency, as well as affording them opportunities to make a living doing more creative and less menial labor. Berlo’s discussion of the circumstances in which silver jewelry is produced for sale by vendors beneath the portals of the Palace of the Governors at Santa Fe pointedly addresses the complex nature of creating the effect of “authenticity,” noting that not only the Spanish colonial style building itself is a 20th century edifice, but that much “handmade” silver work is produced in a factory-like workshop kept carefully concealed from potential buyers. In conclusion, she observes that “throughout the history of inter-relations between Indigenous artist and non-Native buyer, the social practices involved in the production and marketing of such works have been complex and multivalent. Tradition and innovation, collective values and individual vision, economic and ideological values are all played out in the arena of tourist arts.”

Haida Platter

Christopher Steiner, “The Image of Africa and its Relationship to Commerce” 

Christopher Steiner focuses attention on the exchange of two types of aesthetic commodities—commercially produced European trade cloth, and more recent African wood sculptures created specifically for sale to outsiders—as examples of two different ways in which views of Africa have been constructed by the West. He notes that Europeans have had both positive and negative attitudes toward Africa, at times stressing a more idyllic and romanticized (though stereotyped and demeaning) view of an unspoiled “primitive” continent, while at other times expressing disdain and fear, stressing the savage aspects of African peoples and cultures. He makes a case that although European colonial conquest and control of Africa depended on mixtures of both attitudes, economic realities of the textile trade for a period compelled Europeans (primarily the British and French) to suspend their racist and ethnocentric views in order to further capitalist expansion. Manufacturers, realizing that African peoples had distinctive tastes and based their aesthetic preferences on predictable criteria, were forced to redesign their own product to enhance its market appeal. On the other hand, the more recent production of replicas of well-known and often illustrated wooden masks, figural sculptures and other artifacts represents the survival of the view of Africa as an unchanging and largely undeveloped continent. Recognized as “primitive art” in the earlier twentieth century after its adoption and appropriation by modernist artists, such pieces speak to a continuing “invention of Africa,” that stresses the supposed rawness and the uncivilized or pre-industrial aspects of its “traditional” cultures. He points out that many tourist visitors, or buyers in foreign boutiques, have preconceived image of authentic African art based on art books and exhibition catalogs, and that local entrepreneurs, like the Senufo carvers he has chronicled in his book African Art in Transit and other studies, replicate both their own art and that of their neighbors to satisfy foreigners’ desire. As a coda in his conclusions, he discusses ways in which the contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare, who often uses trade cloth of the type considered in the essay as a visual symbol of African identity, investigates questions regarding lingering colonialist attitudes and cultural stereotypes in his work.

Yinka Shonibare


Quetzil Castañeda
OSEA, Indiana University

Jeff Kowalski
Northern Illinois University

Mary Katherine Scott
Sainsbury Research Unit,
University of East Anglia

Quetzil Castañeda, “Aesthestics and Ambivalence of Maya Modernity: The Ethnography of Maya Art,”

Quetzil Castañeda reviews the development of wood carving and stone carving traditions in Pisté, Yucatan, located adjacent to the archaeological site of Chichén Itzá. He considers this arte pistéño tradition, first developed by Vincent Chablé, to be the principal origin point for a plethora of regional forms of tourist arts, ranging from the detailed fidelity to ancient Maya sources seen in replica style of the Puuc region (discussed further in the catalog text and Mary Katherine Scott’s essay), to other handicraft arts of Yaxuna. Based on mixtures of ancient Maya (or other Mesoamerican) visual sources (e.g., codices, stone monuments, iconic Chichén Itzá images such as the Chac Mool or feathered serpent), but lacking a long-lived local heritage, the Pisté carvings were at first disparaged as a kind of inauthentic hoax. As these tourist souvenirs have become more popular, in part through official recognition by INAH, and also abetted by the scholarship and promotional support provided by Castañeda himself, some carvers have been able to explore another identity, that of an artist-entrepreneur, although the expression of this identity is “subtle and resides materially in the quality of their work and the recognition by Pisté artisans and artists of this qualitative difference in their work and abilities to produce more beautiful pieces.” Castañeda also notes that the continuing disputes about when and where artisans (or their vendors) can sell their works at Chichén Itzá raises important questions about who “owns” and who benefits from archaeological heritage sites.

     The opportunities for Pisté artisans to demonstrate their artistry is largely conditioned by market forces. Thus, many of the pieces are produced quickly with an eye toward attracting the tourist’s gaze and securing a sale. However, a number of Pisté carvers have been able to create more ambitious and aesthetically developed works, either as the result of having obtained specialized commissions or simply to express their personal skill and creativity, demonstrated by a combination of inventiveness of form and mimetic carving of life forms that convey a sense of energy and life-like presence. Unlike other regional arts produced for sale to tourists (e.g., in Oaxaca or the Maya highlands) that strive to maintain a “folk art” quality, those of Pisté (and by extension the Puuc carvings featured in this exhibition) are more carefully finished and bespeak the naturalism favored both by the ancient Maya and tourist visitor. He makes an important point that simply labeling an object “tourist art” does not do justice to explaining how it is evaluated and situated in a system of artistic production, since the sale of aesthetic objects can range from inexpensive souvenirs to high-end works purchased by tourist visitors in the galleries of major world capitals. He ends with a discussion of the Pisté (and Puuc) carvings as kitsch, but with a recognition that kitsch is based on and reflects the viewers’/purchasers’ fascination with cultural icons that have become so familiar as symbols (in this case of Maya civilization) that they permit the tourists to take home a piece of their own pre-conditioned representation of Maya/Mexican culture.

Pisté Art

Jeff Karl Kowalski, “‘Thrice Built’: Uxmal and Constructions of Maya Identity”

     Jeff Kowalski examines the site of Uxmal and its role in the construction of Maya identity from Pre-Columbian times to the present. Today this identity is shaped by forces of tourism and stresses Uxmal as a world heritage site. However, the site’s identity has been constructed and contested from the time of its foundation, and has regularly taken shape in the context of the its connections with broader world systems. These begin with the rapid population growth in the Puuc region in the eighth century and the foundation of new polities whose rulers were involved in both regional and long-distance trade. Later, during the Postclassic period and early colonial times the Xiu family’s claim to have founded Uxmal bolstered its political authority, first as members of the joint government at Mayapan, and later as “natural lords” under Spanish dominion.

     More recently, Uxmal, like other major sites, has become a symbol of Maya identity and civilization. This process began with prominence given to Uxmal and the Puuc region in popular accounts of Maya exploration (e.g., Stephens and Catherwood’s Incidents of Travel in Yucatan), and includes the use of Uxmal as a model for Maya sections of World’s Fairs (the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the 1933 World’s Fair in St. Louis) and its impact on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Robert Stacy-Judd. It continues through frequent emphasis on Uxmal and the Puuc region in popular accounts of ancient Maya culture, ranging from coverage of Maya archaeology in popular  journals, to references to Uxmal’s architecture in the Disney EPCOT theme park and in the recent spectacular and hyper-violent motion picture Apocalypto. As Uxmal has become a heritage site and destination for different types of tourists (cultural tourists, backpackers, new age groups) the tourist infrastructure that supports it has expanded. The visitors themselves arrive with their experience colored by their own aims and background knowledge, so that the meanings of Uxmal continue to be a contested cultural resource, neither completely contained or defined by those encompassed by academic archaeological studies.

Uxmal replica at 1933 World's Fair in St. Louis

Uxmal replica at Epcot Center, Florida

Mary Katherine Scott, “Representing the Maya: When is it appropriate to call ‘appropriations’ Art?”

Mary Katherine Scott looks more closely at production among the artisans working in the Puuc region. She discusses how these artisans are receptive to the way their culture is perceived by tourists, and how they emphasize certain aspects of popular representations of their culture to conform to the tourist’s ideal. By visiting a Maya region, tourists hope to encounter the “new” or “exotic.”   Consciously or not, tourists have preconceived notions of the Maya well before they visit because they are influenced by the way popular culture and the media portray both ancient and contemporary Maya culture.  Scott outlines how Western perceptions of the Maya have changed over the centuries based on various scholarly or popular media sources in order to contextualize the market in which the Puuc woodcarvings are produced and sold.

Thus, the Puuc artisans’ focus on aspects of their Maya culture (as it is perceived by cultural outsiders) is used as a marketing strategy, as is reproducing in wood and other media more portable replicas of some of the most famous ancient stone sculptures for sale to the tourist market.  As is the case with many of the artesanías, or handicrafts, in Yucatán, these replicas are often skillfully made, high quality reproductions, but their function as “tourist art” relegates them to categories of “low art” or “non art,” making them a controversial class of objects within the field of art history. Although they are a form of “appropriation,” as examples of “tourist art” they are generally considered less complex than appropriations of originals in contemporary or ancient Western art. The ancient prototype, on the other hand, is regarded as “high art,” exemplified in the fact that these “originals” are displayed in premier art and anthropology museums around the world.  The ancient Maya, however, would not have conceived of these spiritually and politically charged sculptures as “fine art” in the Western sense of the term, so their recontextualization by modern Western scholars raises questions regarding the Western systems of aesthetics and the categorization of art into binary categories (e.g. high art vs. low art, craft vs. fine art, and original vs. reproduction). Considering the ambiguities and possible contradictions involved in such labeling practices, Scott suggests that it is more productive to examine aesthetic artifacts as arising within historical contexts and complex fields of production.

Jesús Marcos Delgado

Presenters will present a series of talks on these themes, accompanied by periods for questions and discussion.

The symposium is free and open to the public.

We encourage attendees to contact Connie Rhoton (, 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.Held in conjunction with the exhibition, “Crafting Maya Identity: Contemporary Wood Sculptures from the Puuc Region, Yucatán”


Jesús Marcos DelgadoSaturday, September 19, 2009,

Support for the exhibition, symposium, and exhibition catalog is made possible by generous grants from the following sources:
Venture Grant, The NIU Foundation

Consulado General de México en Chicago

Support has also been provided by the School of Art,
with support from the Elizabeth Allen Visiting Lecturers Fund

The Center for Latino and Latin American Studies

The Latino Resource Center

The Department of Anthropology at NIU.

Contact information:
Northern Illinois University

School of Art

Jack Olson Gallery

Connie Rhoton
(for Symposium RSVP and food orders)

Directions and map of NIU campus

Please report any site problems here.