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Contemporary Maya Art explored by HAVC PhD student

HAVC Grad Student's Research leads to CAA presentation

Diana Rose's explorations of contemporary art among the Maya have taken her from the reclusive communities of Chiapas to an academic showcase in Los Angeles. Rose will present her latest research in an invited paper to this winter's College Art Association (CAA) annual conference. Close ties to the Maya community where she was born helped inspire Rose's original research. Her upcoming presentation to the CAA came about due to what Rose modestly calls "perfect timing."

After receiving her Masters degree in Art History at UC Riverside, an advisor who had worked in the Andes, put Rose in touch with Carolyn Dean. "UCSC's new PhD program in History of Art and Visual Culture had just opened up," Rose recalls, "and I really was impressed with Carolyn, the way she questioned the materials." Accepted into the new PhD program Rose is now in her second year of studies. "All graduate students know they need to give papers," she says. "It's just a matter of finding the right venue." And for a graduate student to have a paper accepted to CAA is a well-accepted honor.


 Resistance made Visual

Working in pre-Hispanic Maya culture Rose was interested in seeing how contemporary Maya artists had incorporated pre-hispanic references, both in terms of visual and conceptual imagery. "Why are they using these references?" she wondered.  "To connect with the past? To resist the norm? I saw it all around me— but what does it mean to them?" she asked. "So I began," she recalls with a smile. "I went to a three-week summer course on Arts and Resistance, given by NYU and held in my home town of San Cristobel de las Casas, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. There were graduate students from all over who came there," she remembers with obvious enjoyment. "Many of them were performance artists, and many were South American students. More perfect timing!"

The call for CAA papers came at the same time as this program, so Rose decided to submit her  proposal just to see what might come of it. "I submitted a proposal to the "Contemporary Art in Latin America" panel —and it was accepted"  she grins.  "I will present a 20 minute talk with lots of images, very specific images of Zapatistic art, from two or three primary artists, which include painter Antun Kojtom and a female photographer named Maroch Santiz."

Rose's subjects are artists whose work is relatively unknown in north american academic circles.  I'm trying to argue that we often ignore work that deals with local issues. With the colonizers interpreting or framing the discussion," she notes "even now the academic fields tend to generalize and look for certain kinds of pre-hispanic imagery. And that usually involves Chicano art."


Maya Self-Reflection

Rose wants to re-visit Maya artwork from the point of view of Mayan artists themselves.  "How the direct descendants of Maya culture think about their work," this, Rose feels, iis the heart of her research.The HAVC graduate student admits that she isn't yet fluent in the indigenous languages of the Maya region. "There are many native languages, but two are primary - Tzotzil and Tzeltal. And yes, while it is correct to say 'Mayan languages,' the people are called 'Maya.''

Even Rose admits that it's "a struggle not to fall into the old stereotypes. But these artists are forthcoming and generous with their work." The first-hand fieldwork has given Rose unique opportunities. "It is amazing to be down there, in the field, seeing the work itself.  For example Maroch Santiz. Seeing her photographs first hand and hearing her speak about her work. When the intellectual part gets a bit sticky, I go to the images to stay fresh.

Rose is still a relatively new graduate student, but already she suspects that this area of inquiry might become her area of specialization. "I think this is an area I could work in for a long time," she admits, smiling broadly. And she also admits that she has a distinct hometown advantage. But when she visits the Mayan capital, "many consider me an outsider, a non-Indian. When I tell them I was born here, it makes them more comfortable." Maya are notoriously a cautious group.  "Even though Ciapas is still home—most of my mother's family is there —when I am down there I find I have to prove myself— that I am part of them. It's been quite a journey since moving up here to go to college 12 years ago."


The paper at CAA will help with getting work published, Diana Rose admits. "And I do want to publish this paper. It will also allow me to get more grants." The chance to deliver her research at CAA is potentially vital to her career. "The field of Latin American Studies is relatively small," Rose reveals. "Most of the people in the field, quite likely, will be there. So there's an important opportunity to build networks of colleagues, both students and faculty."