Revealing artifacts: prehispanic replicas in a Oaxacan woodcarving town
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines the state and tourist discourses that promote the Mexican state of Oaxaca as a site of authentic prehispanic and contemporary indigenous culture. I show the contradictions inherent in these discourses through the lens of a single community with a history of involvement in two different craft traditions. Since the 1980s, San Antonio Arrazola has garnered international acclaim as the birthplace of the colorful woodcarvings known as "alebrijes." However, few tourists and folk art collectors are aware that it is also home to a group of artisans who make and sell replicas of prehispanic artifacts at nearby Monte Albán, the largest, most frequented archaeological zone in Oaxaca and a UNESCO World Heritage site. In a seeming contradiction, Arrazola woodcarvers are promoted as skilled craftsmen for the tourist and ethnic art market while replica artisans and vendors, often from the same households as the carvers, are generally regarded as an undesirable presence by tourists and Oaxaca officials alike. xiv I suggest that woodcarvers are more easily contained within idealized discourses of age old village traditions even though their craft is relatively recent and is produced for an outside market years. Replica makers and sellers, on the other hand, do not fit within prescribed notions of appropriate and legitimate cultural production. Replicas by definition are imitations or copies of artifacts, and therefore are generally disregarded as cultural objects in their own right. They may also occasionally pass as originals, much to the consternation of Monte Albán archaeologists who have a great stake in maintaining what they perceive to be the historical integrity of the site. I argue that replicas, by their very nature, both reproduce and threaten hegemonic discourses of Oaxacan culture and identity. I show how these discourses manifest nationalist and tourist appropriations of archaeological remains and handicrafts. Replicas therefore must be understood as part of the same representational field as these other Oaxacan material culture, despite the workings of the state and other cultural brokers to construct them as marginal objects.