De/Materializing Self: Nahua Precious Insignia and the Experiential Body

  • February 5, 2024
  • Online


This installment of the Pre-Columbian Society of New York Lecture Series will feature Allison Caplan from Yale.

Among the Nahuas of Late Postclassic and early colonial central Mexico, precious materials played an integral role in manifestations of the divine. When layered and worn, devices of highly valued stones, feathers, shells, and gold gave rise to multisensory experiences that reconstituted the identity of their wearers as embodiments of sacred beings and phenomena.

Surviving devices and Nahuatl textual descriptions of the experience of insignia worn on the body together provide insight into the maneuvers through which precious insignia underwent a type of dematerialization, becoming sensory experiences that simultaneously reconstituted the wearer’s own body and self.

This talk will focus on a set of Nahuatl-language texts that narrate the act of assembling precious insignia onto the body and the subsequent transformations through which precious material and dressed body alike became aesthetic experiences that were at once kinetic, visual, sonorous, and spatialized. Through this discussion, the investigation traces the question of the material, thinking through the ways in which juxtaposition, motion, and sensoriality enabled bodies and precious materials alike to take on new forms as fully aesthetic experiences. Through this process, insignia helped produce bodies that manifested an experiential sense of self and new, expansive forms of identity and sociality.

Free. Register in advance: in-person or online.