UC Berkeley History of Art Department

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Mural Painting and the Ancient Americas

Lisa Trever and Victoria Lyall


Lisa Trever and Victoria Lyall (SFSU) will convene an interdisciplinary symposium on Mural Painting and the Ancient Americas, within the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology on Saturday, April 18, 2015, 8 a.m. to noon., at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.

Artist and activist Judy Baca argues that “Muralism is a work made in relatedness. Related to the people that surround it; related to the place it is in and made in a public voice.” Indeed, mural paintings—made either in twentieth-century Los Angeles or in eighth-century Guatemala—are works that are often time-, place-, and community-specific. Often the life of a mural is brief, until it is expunged, repainted, or—more often in the case of ancient American examples—interred and built over. The close ties between murals and the time, place, and people of their facture make their ephemerality all the more poignant.

In the last thirty years we have witnessed extraordinary archaeological discoveries of mural paintings throughout the Americas. This has also been a period of marked advances in technical, material, and art historical research and reassessments of long-known painted walls. This symposium brings together archaeologists, art historians, archaeometrists, conservators, and curators to discuss the meanings and functions of mural paintings from the American Southwest, Mesoamerica, and South America. Emphasis is placed on the ways in which context matters in the production of meaning and how archaeological inquiry might open new vistas on murals as temporally, spatially, and socially “related” works. Papers include archaeological subjects as well as historical and contemporary subjects that relate later murals and muralisms to the ancient American past.