Reworking the Spanish Colonial Paradigm: Mestizaje and Spirituality in Contemporary New Mexican Artby STEPHANIE LEWTHWAITE

J. Am. Stud.


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Robert J. Baumgardner


Journal of American Studies

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Reworking the Spanish Colonial Paradigm:

Mestizaje and Spirituality in Contemporary New

Mexican Art


Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 02 / May 2013, pp 339 - 362

DOI: 10.1017/S002187581300011X, Published online: 17 April 2013

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How to cite this article:

STEPHANIE LEWTHWAITE (2013). Reworking the Spanish Colonial Paradigm:

Mestizaje and Spirituality in Contemporary New Mexican Art. Journal of American

Studies, 47, pp 339-362 doi:10.1017/S002187581300011X

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Reworking the Spanish Colonial

Paradigm: Mestizaje and

Spirituality in Contemporary

New Mexican Art


During the early s, Anglo-Americans in search of an indigenous modernism found inspiration in the Hispano and Native American arts of New Mexico. The elevation of Spanish colonial-style art through associations such as the Anglo-led Spanish Colonial Arts Society (SCAS, ) placed Hispano aesthetic production within the realm of tradition, as the product of geographic and cultural isolation rather than innovation. The revival of the SCAS in  and Spanish Market in  helped perpetuate the view of Hispanos either as “traditional” artists who replicate an “authentic” Spanish colonial style, or as “outsider” artists who defy categorization. Thus the Spanish colonial paradigm has endorsed a purist vision of Hispano art and identity that obscures the intercultural encounters shaping contemporary Hispano visual culture. This essay investigates a series of contemporary Hispano artists who challenge the

Spanish colonial paradigm as it developed under Anglo patronage, principally through the realm of spiritually based artwork. I explore the satirical art of contemporary santero Luis Tapia; the colonial, baroque, indigenous and pop culture iconographies of painter Ray Martín Abeyta; and the “mixed-tech media” of Marion Martínez’s circuit-board retablos. These artists blend Spanish colonial art with pre-Columbian mythology and pop culture, tradition with technology, and local with global imaginaries. In doing so, they present more empowering and expansive visions of Hispano art and identity – as declarations of cultural ownership and adaptation and as oppositional mestizo formations tied historically to wider Latino, Latin American and transnational worlds.

In  the New Mexico Museum of Art’s exhibition, How the West Is

One, charted the intercultural encounters shaping New Mexican art. In the accompanying text, curator Joseph Traugott begins his discussion with Ray

Martín Abeyta’s Indios () (Figure ). Replicating the baroque in painted form, Abeyta presents a double portrait – the pre-Columbian deity

Quetzalcoatl coupled with the Hindu deity Shiva – which mocks Columbus’s “mis-discovery” of the Americas as the Indies. For Traugott, Indios “challenges viewers to think sensitively about the aesthetic fusions that have occurred in

Department of American and Canadian Studies, University of Nottingham. Email: stephanie.

Journal of American Studies,  (), , – © Cambridge University Press  doi:./SX Downloaded: 13 Mar 2015 IP address:

NewMexico art and culture.”What remains unclear, however, is that Abeyta’s global imaginary draws explicitly on Spanish colonial art forms, forms which were viewed by Anglo-American patrons in New Mexico as products of isolation rather than evidence of intercultural mixing across the centuries. The joining of Quetzalcoatl with Shiva not only represents the “mis-discovery” of

America; it also represents the persistent “mistranslation” of Spanish colonial art and Hispano identity as authentic “Spanish” entities unadulterated by local processes of mestizaje (cultural and ethnic mixing) and global economic and artistic exchange. Abeyta belongs to a generation of contemporary Hispano artists and cultural activists who revisit and rework this Spanish colonial paradigm. Abeyta’s work, and that of his contemporaries, involves “pulling

Figure . Ray Martín Abeyta (b. ), Indios, , oil on linen, × in.

Collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art. Gift of Ray Graham and Ray

Martín Abeyta,  (..).  Joseph Traugott, The Art of New Mexico: How the West Is One (Santa Fe: Museum of New

Mexico Press, ), . Kristina Perea, Cuentos y Encuentros: Paintings by Ray Martín Abeyta (Albuquerque:

National Hispanic Cultural Center, ), .  Following Tey Marianna Nunn, Sin Nombre: Hispana and Hispano Artists of the New Deal

Era (Albuquerque: University of NewMexico Press, ), I use the regional term “Hispano” to refer to Spanish-speaking residents of New Mexico. I use this term not to imply Hispanos’ “Spanish” (as opposed to Mexican, indigenous or mestizo) ancestry, but to acknowledge that specific historical and regional factors have shaped the form of ethnic identity politics in New

Mexico. See Charles Montgomery, The Spanish Redemption: Heritage, Power, and Loss on  Stephanie Lewthwaite Downloaded: 13 Mar 2015 IP address: back the layers and seeing the deeply embedded mixtures in [New Mexican] communities,” to quote historian Estevan Rael-Gálvez. These mixtures destabilize long-held myths about Spanish colonial rule and tri-cultural harmony in New Mexico, myths which continue to dominate the state’s heritage industry and much of its contemporary cultural expression.