Barbara Mundy Lecture: “Pen, paper, ink: the materiality of Nahua writing”

Date / Time

February 22, 2021

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm


UIC Mesoamerican Worldview and Intellectual Tradition Working Group


Barbara Mundy, Fordham University

 “Pen, paper, ink: the materiality of Nahua writing

Rather than being ancillary to the message, the materials that Nahua writers (tlaquiloque) used in creating books and documents were themselves charged with meaning. Recent work by conservators and materials scientists has shown the complexity of pigments; the origin of some colored pigments as flowers connects writing to the shared Mesoamerican ideal of the Flower World. Less attention has been given to black inks, but they were the byproduct of burning by fire, itself a transformative force. And paper substrates, made from the inner bark of the ficus tree, and thus a kind of skin, were no less important than the graphic marks that they carried. In focusing on the materials of writing, I will propose a anti-colonial practice of reading the Mesoamerican book.

Barbara E. Mundy is a Professor of Art History at Fordham University in New York. Her scholarship dwells in zones of contact between Native peoples and settler colonists as they forged new visual cultures in the Americas. She has been particularly interested in the social construction of space and its imaginary. Her most recent book, The Death of Aztec Tenochtitlan, the Life of Mexico City (Texas, 2015), draws on Indigenous texts and representations to counter a colonialist historiography and to argue for the city’s nature as an Indigenous city through the sixteenth century. With Dana Leibsohn, she is the creator of Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820 (



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