Catalina Ospina Jimenez: Mopa Mopa Objects and Epistemological Encounters in the Colonial Andes

From Mouth to Hand: Mopa Mopa Objects and Epistemological Encounters in the Colonial Andes

This project focuses on wooden objects for domestic use such as chests and trays that native Andeans decorated with a very particular resin—known as mopa mopa or Barniz de Pasto. Mopa mopa objects were produced during the seventeenth century in a relatively isolated area of the colonial northern Andes, known today as Pasto, Colombia. These objects display carefully arranged compositions of flora and fauna and merge together pre-Hispanic, European, and Asian techniques and motifs. Coveted by their translucent and lustrous surface finish, they traveled through the Andean cordillera and all the way to Spain. Efforts to understand mopa mopa objects have merely tried to identify the cultural origin of their motifs as either European, Asian or, pre-Hispanic. This project, in turn, analyzes the implications of transferring these motifs into new images using a distinctive native material and technique, a process that speaks to the generative encounter of visually, materially, and spatially encoded native and European knowledge-making practices. Two major methodological approaches are employed. The first is to study the pre- Hispanic significance of mopa mopa image-making technique, an important part of which consisted in chewing the resin to clean it and mix in pigments. The second approach consists in probing the interconnections between the construction of colonial discourse about Andean nature  and culture and the emergence of the imagery on mopa mopa objects.

Catalina Ospina Jimenez is a PhD candidate in the Art History department at the University of Chicago. She studies the material culture of pre-Hispanic and colonial Latin America, with a focus on the Andean region. Her research examines the intersections between the symbolic and pragmatic aspects of bodily practices and properties and circulation of artifacts. She is particularly interested in understanding knowledge-making practices beyond alphabetic writing.

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