Blanton Museum opens exhibition on Spanish American textiles

Katy Nelson, News Desk Editor

The Blanton Museum of Art opened its newest exhibition on Aug. 14, a display that focuses on the fashion and racial identities of colonial Latin America.

The exhibition, entitledPainted Cloth: Fashion and Ritual in Colonial Latin America,” features paintings from Mexico, Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela made in the 1600s and 1700s. Rosario Granados, associate curator of the art of the Spanish Americas at the Blanton Museum, said she hopes the exhibition will help people learn about the complex historical background of the period.

“I was born and raised in Mexico City, and I have been fascinated by the colonial period since college,” Granados said. “I was very much interested in the identity that both people of Spanish descent but also of indigenous descent had to deal with, and in a way, it’s similar to the challenges that Mexican Americans face today.”  

Granados said the casta paintings on display in the exhibition represent a broad combination of races and people who lived in Mexico primarily, though the exhibition also showcases casta paintings from Peru. Casta paintings were a form of portraiture from the 18th century depicting contemporary racial categories, according to the Blanton’s website. Granados said the presentation also features a performance entitled “Casta” that is inspired by the paintings.

“(The play is inspired by) these series of canvases that show the combination of races, but then they’re going to take that as a pretext to talk about race today and how complicated that topic is, and how people still struggle to identify as a mixed-race person and the challenge that people of color face in the U.S. now,” Granados said. 

Maya Stanfield-Mazzi, a catalog author for the exhibition, said the display emphasizes woven textiles, an important facet of the colonial Americas because of what they revealed about a person by how they dressed.

“Sometimes, the people in the paintings wear textiles that were imported from India or other places,” said Stanfield-Mazzi, associate professor of art history at the University of Florida. “There’s this insight into the whole economy of the 18th century in Mexico in the case of casta paintings.” 

Granados said the exhibition was originally supposed to open in 2019 but was delayed to create an art catalog and then further pushed back by the pandemic in 2021. 

However, Carlotta Stankiewicz, director of communications and marketing at the Blanton Museum, said the extra time allowed the marketing team to become familiar with the art and find the best way to promote it to the public, as well as to come up with ways to utilize new construction projects around the museum.

“It’s a challenge to get people to know that we’re open and that we’ve got this wonderful new show that’s opened,” said Stankiewicz. “One of the things that we came up with was using (the construction) fence, and turning that barrier into an opportunity. We’ve created these fence banners with fun headlines that speak to different elements of the exhibition.”

Granados said she hopes that people can find artistic value in the production of colonial Latin America.

“I really hope this opens a door for appreciation in the region in general … (and) to learn more about the complexities of the colonial period in terms of the abuse that happened there,” Granados said. “But also about how the indigenous people were able to contest the system that was being imposed on them and find a way to work within it to find their own agency.”