This talk is presented as the Student Forum of the History of Art’s Distinguished Lecture in Art of the Ancient Americas.
Inka art spans the spectrum from mimetic representation to pure abstraction. Contrary to expectations, its most public visual culture—rock monuments (including carved boulders and architecture), elite textiles, and painted ceramics used in great public feasts—features geometric motifs and other non-figural designs or patterns. The Inkas’ insistence on abstraction for such widely-viewed items has often proved puzzling to observers today, since the lack of figural imagery stymies our usual methods of interpretation. In this presentation, award-winning author Carolyn Dean of the University of California Santa Cruz explores the communicative force of Inka “abstraction” and the ways it pressures viewers to focus on materiality, facture, and other non-imagistic factors.