|Cortes and Company|
Recently I taught an introductory course on Colonial Latin American Art and Architecture to a group of adults. At the onset, one of the class members stated that she could not forgive the Spanish. She was angry at them for their treatment of the indigenous peoples during the Conquest of the Americas. I had to come up with something quickly or that was the end of the class I had planned. We could have spent the entire session expanding upon the cruelty heaped by the Spanish upon those they subjugated- not only the American Indigenous but the Jews and Muslims in their own country. The truth was that the Spanish had a passionate sense of their own mission in Christianizing the world they knew, but those were different times with a different mind-set than ours. We will be exploring this in my next post.
My rapid response to her was this. While it was true that Spanish colonialization was often a cruel process, it was important to see beyond that to the resulting alchemy of the blending of Spanish aims with the resistance of the Indians. A magnificent material culture- art, architecture and customs- was born from the pain of the indigenous- the subjugated Aztecs, Mayas, Incas and others- all the people who suffered under the yoke of the Spanish, but who in turn also changed the culture of their captors resulting in an entirely new order.
The history of art tells us that there is a universal link between art and pain. The colonial Mexican world is almost a laboratory for seeing this link. From the brokenness of the indigenous peoples, from the attempted destruction of their pyramids, temples, their religion and culture something totally unique was born- something completely unlike anything before. That was Colonial Latin American world with it's magnificent churches, sculpture, paintings, and celebrations. These are the equal of anything you can see in Europe and even more interesting because you can so clearly see their roots, the imprint of the suffering that went into them and the triumph that emerged.