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Between Art and Artifact

Archaeological Replicas and Cultural Production in Oaxaca, Mexico

By Ronda L. Brulotte

Publication Year: 2012

An innovative ethnographic study of tourist art markets in Oaxaca, Mexico, where making and selling replicas of pre-Hispanic archaeological pieces is sometimes met with disdain, despite the artisanal quality and rich heritage associated with the practice

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

When Marcus Winter, a prominent archaeologist with the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (known by its Spanish acronym, INAH), penned the above observation more than two decades ago, he gave voice to a concern shared by archaeologists, art historians, and museum professionals...

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pp. xv-xx

It has been easy to conduct the research for and write this book, and I am grateful to the many people and institutions who have off ered their assistance in bringing this project to completion.
I owe the biggest thanks to all of my friends and acquaintances in San Antonio Arrazola who generously gave of themselves and their...

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1. Introduction: Between Art and Artifact

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pp. 1-25

I drove southwest from the city of Oaxaca toward the artisan village of San Antonio Arrazola, remembering my impressions of the town when I fi rst visited it in the spring of 1995. Much had changed in the intervening years, including the highway itself, which sported freshly paved asphalt. I passed through...

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The Skull of Benito Juárez

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pp. 26-27

Sitting on the top step of the Southern Platform, one of Monte Albán’s impressive pyramid mounds, I scribbled the final notes from my morning observations and then glanced down at my watch. It was still early afternoon, just about 2:30 p.m. However, by that time the crowds that had earlier converged upon the archaeological zone...

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2. A Wood-Carving Community

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pp. 28-49

As two popular English-language buying guides attest (Hancock Sandoval 1998; Rothstein and Rothstein 2007), the opportunity to purchase unique, locally produced craft s is one of central Oaxaca’s biggest draws. Craft s abound not only in Arrazola, but also in the city’s numerous shops and other nearby...

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Family Photo

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pp. 50-54

Convincing his sister to let him borrow the photo would not be easy, warned Antonio Aragón,¹ a longtime replica seller at Monte Albán. When his father passed away some years ago, Antonio’s sister appointed herself caretaker of all of the important documents and the few family heirlooms that he left behind. She kept...

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3. Arrazola’s Other Craft

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pp. 55-77

As the official "birthplace of the Alebrijies," Arrazola is much touted by guidebooks and other media promoting the art and culture of Oaxaca. But complicating Arrazola’s image as a traditional wood-carving village is a group of men who dedicate themselves to the production and sale of replicas of pre-Hispanic artifacts at Monte Albán, the largest, most visited archaeological zone...

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To the Top of Monte Albán

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pp. 78-80

I glanced down at my watch: 9:25 A.M., only five more minutes until we were scheduled to leave. My gaze settled on the hot pink wall in front of me, where someone had painted a giant multicolored map of the state of Oaxaca. A connect-the-dots pattern informed tourists...

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4. Crafting the Past in the Present

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pp. 81-107

The man in Oaxaca still makes [replicas]. A beautiful piece came out here one day—brought by a woman with a baby. It was made by the man. His father and his uncles made them too. He grew up in the profession, but he’s better than either of them ever were. . . . I was told about a piece in Ocotlán that someone told me was a first epoch piece...

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Views from the Pyramid

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pp. 108-111

I looked upward from my position at the base of the giant stone staircase leading up to Monte Albán’s South Platform. No matter how many times I climbed up those pyramid steps, I always arrived at the top feeling a sense of vertigo and as if my lungs were about to...

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5. Replicating Authenticity, Authenticating Replicas

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pp. 112-136

Traveler Lee Arnold (2002) recounted his experience at Monte Albán on www.BootsnAll.com, a website billing itself as “the ultimate resource for the independent traveler.” In contrast to the Mexican tourist discussed in the preceding vignette, Arnold portrays himself as too savvy to be taken in by the “discourse of uncertainty” (van der Spek 2008) maintained by vendors...

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Discriminating Tastes

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pp. 137-143

"No mczocalo!" and "we don't want McDollars!,” read protesters’ signs. In 2002 the city of Oaxaca made headline news in the United States and throughout the world for what many regarded as a milestone victory for the anti-globalization movement. Aft er multiple...

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6. Replicas and the Ambiguity of Race and Indigeneity

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pp. 144-168

I stood at Monte Albán with Alberto, an artisan, and his customer. Alberto tried to close the sale as I strategically remained a few feet away as. His asking price was 100 pesos (roughly ten U.S. dollars) for two small figurines representing a Pre-Hispanic acrobat and a “ jaguar god”—designs loosely based on Oaxacan archaeological motifs. I recognized the pieces from Alberto’s home workshop in Arrazola...

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7. Why Fake Jaguar Gods Matter

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pp. 169-174

As concerns mount that globalization is eroding the distinctions that give places their unique character, Oaxaca retains its aura of cultural alterity even as it experiences the penetration of multinational capital and flows of visitors from around the world. Mexico City– based writer and travel columnist Barbara Kastelein describes a network of social actors and institutions...


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pp. 175-188


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pp. 189-204


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pp. 205-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780292737808
E-ISBN-10: 0292737807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292737792
Print-ISBN-10: 0292737793

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of Mexico -- Mexico -- Oaxaca Valley -- Material culture.
  • Indian wood-carving -- Mexico -- Oaxaca Valley.
  • Indian art -- Mexico -- Oaxaca Valley.
  • Cultural property -- Mexico -- Oaxaca Valley.
  • Art objects -- Mexico -- Oaxaca Valley -- Reproduction.
  • Antiquites -- Mexico -- Oaxaca Valley -- Reproduction.
  • Oaxaca Valley (Mexico) -- Antiquities.
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