Zapotec Women and Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropologia

Huizar - Mexico - Museo de Antropologia
Entrance to Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology

When I entered the “Oaxaca” area of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology I was astounded by a large mural, painted in 1964 by Arturo Garcia Bustos.  Covering an entire wall, Garcia Bustos presents the viewer with a romantic portrayal of the market in Oaxaca’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  Filled with bustling activity, indigenous women (including Zapotec) dominate the scene. Whether consciously or not Garcia Bustos taps into a misleading myth of matriarchy that has arisen about this indigenous region in the last few decades. This myth has inspired documentaries, media stories, and academic articles, many which name Juchitan (the region’s largest city) a Matriarchy and a Queer Paradise.  This mural was not only exciting for its vast size and beauty, but for its relevance to my research interests that prompt me to better understand the visual representation of Zapotec women of the Isthmus (although I specifically focus on Oaxaca’s COCEI indigenous movement).

The Museo de Antropologia offers many displays on Zapotec indigenous culture, most of which emphasize in some way indigenous dress, particularly that of women.  I felt unsettled as I saw anaguas and rebozos (important elements of Zapotec indigenous dress) behind glass panes or in pristine, untouchable displays. If anything, my research has shown me how Zapotec, COCEI women used their dress as tools to challenge indigenous invisibility and to consolidate ethnic pride in the COCEI movement.  Whereas the museum focused on the “informative”, I longed to be back in Oaxaca where women politicize dress through the act of wearing.   I have to admit that in part I loved the museum for the way it forced me to continuously re-signify and decontextualize many of the “cultural objects” (like dress) that I am trying to understand.  For this reason the Museo de Antropologia and its library proved to be my most visited place in Mexico City. Almost every day I walked through its exhibits as I took breaks reading dissertations on Zapotec women and the COCEI.  I am especially thankful for the museum’s vast research materials and the friendly staff that helped me locate many wonderful sources.

Posted by Sofia Huizar — MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU

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