UCR Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Anthropology, Catharina E. Santasilia, is curating an exhibit about Mesoamerican culture at the Riverside Art Museum in collaboration with the Riverside Metropolitan Museum (RMM). The exhibit officially opens on Saturday, Feb. 3, however, there will be an opening reception on Friday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m
The exhibit, titled “Uncovering Ancient Mexico: The Mystery of Tlatilco,” is specifically about ancient Mexico and the specific archaeological methods used to study the area. The Highlander sat down with Santasilia in order to better understand the exhibit. Santasilia claimed that the exhibit is introducing cultures and civilizations from more than 3,000 years ago in Mexico — long before the Spanish arrived. Santasilia stated that curating an exhibit at the Riverside Metropolitan Museum and the Riverside Art Museum happened as part of a series of serendipitous events. Santasilia explained, “It was a great opportunity … so I just seized the moment when curator Dr. Brenda Focht, a UCR alumna, and former director Sarah Mundy of the Riverside Metropolitan Museum offered it to me.”
Santasilia said she was motivated to curate this exhibit because of the experience it would provide her with. She was particularly excited about being able to incorporate her dissertation research into her exhibit and the opportunity to share the story of the Tlatilco, an ancient community located in Mexico, with the population of Riverside. In an email interview, Focht noted the “exhibition features a collection of ancient Mexican objects. This Tlatilco collection is the heritage of the Riverside’s Latino people.”
Santasilia hopes that people will learn something about this unique culture and see how complex Mexico was 3,000 years ago. Through dissemination of her dissertation research, she hopes to share her passion for archaeology as well as Tlatilco. Santasilia stated, “We really want to share this story and we would like people to find inspiration in these ancient artifacts.”
Santasilia said that her advisor, Dr. Karl Taube, played a key role in the change of events. As she stated, “My advisor proposed that I changed my dissertation topic and focus on Tlatilco … I do not think he would have ever suggested I just change my topic, but because I was now an intern at RMM and suddenly had access to this unique material, it became an opportunity that I could not pass up.” Santasilia shared that this opened up a “whole new way of doing research,” as she had the opportunity to visit museum collections across the United States to pursue research on Tlatilco.
The RMM is funding this exhibition, according to Dr. Focht, who added, “The RMM also facilitated and funded a loan of objects from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Tlatilco collection for the exhibition.”
After visiting the museum in fall of 2014, Santasilia expressed interest in an internship in the museum’s anthropology collection, according to Focht. Focht acknowledged Santasilia’s work on the Tlatilco collection as what led to her being chosen to select objects and write text for the exhibit. “The work with this RMM collection led to her (Santasilia’s) decision to make the ancient Tlatilco culture the subject of her dissertation,” Focht furthered.
UCR’s Center for Ideas and Society also played a significant role as Santasilia and Dr. Taube applied for and received a grant to arrange a conference where speakers from all over the United States, Canada and Mexico have been invited to come and present their research. “The Center for Ideas and Society have been a tremendous help and they are doing great work trying to promote and arrange the conference,” said Santasilia. “Being a graduate student, arranging a conference and curating an exhibit is a lot of work, so the fact that CIS were able to take care of most of the logistics has been incredible.”
The conference, “The Rise of Civilization in Mesoamerica,” will be held in conjunction with the opening of the exhibit on Feb. 3. The exhibit’s opening is free and open to the public and will take place at the Main Library in Downtown Riverside.