Bearing witness : scaling people, place, and politics in the architectural models of West Mexico
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Throughout Mesoamerica, artisans utilized small-scale figurines to create narrative scenes that crystallized ephemeral performance. While most of these scenes can be freely arranged and handled, examples from West Mexico stand apart. They are unique in their attention to not only place, but also people, as ornamented figurines are rooted within miniaturized representations of the built environment. Capturing dynamic moments in clay, these objects offer glimpses into an ancient region that has been negatively impacted by modernization, time, and heavy looting. Spectators witness pole-climbing rituals, feasting events, and mortuary processions, continuously observing how space contributed to communal gathering and participation. Unfortunately, this repeated emphasis upon communal gathering, in addition to the small-scale and limited provenience of the ceramics, have led scholars to dismiss the objects as potent forms of socio-political expression. Yet, as one of the few forms of material culture within West Mexico that contains not only figural representation, but narrative scenes, these maquettes must have embodied various modes of intimate knowledge for ancient peoples, just as they offer important insight for contemporary scholars. In this paper, I propose that the maquettes are not merely anecdotal forms, but objects that offer insight into the socio-political complexities of the region. In their emulation of people and place, they invite the spectator to mediate upon spaces that served as arenas for social performances and the socialized bodies that gathered within those spaces. Solidifying people, performance, and the built environment in clay, these tableau-like models stage the social relationships and interactions that were forged within public patio spaces. These maquettes invite investigation into questions of individuality and collectivity, social and ritual practices, and the ways in which architecture and action were both scaled up and scaled down in West Mexican artistic traditions.