Playing with Things
Engaging the Moche Sex Pots
288 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.90 in, 70 b&w photos
Sales Date: August 17, 2021
Winner, Association for Latin American Art-Arvey Foundation Book Award, 2022
More than a thousand years ago on the north coast of Peru, Indigenous Moche artists created a large and significant corpus of sexually explicit ceramic works of art. They depicted a diversity of sex organs and sex acts, and an array of solitary and interconnected human and nonhuman bodies. To the modern eye, these Moche “sex pots,” as Mary Weismantel calls them, are lively and provocative but also enigmatic creations whose import to their original owners seems impossible to grasp.
In Playing with Things, Weismantel shows that there is much to be learned from these ancient artifacts, not merely as inert objects from a long-dead past but as vibrant Indigenous things, alive in their own inhuman temporality. From a new materialist perspective, she fills the gaps left by other analyses of the sex pots in pre-Columbian studies, where sexuality remains marginalized, and in sexuality studies, where non-Western art is largely absent. Taking a decolonial approach toward an archaeology of sexuality and breaking with long-dominant iconographic traditions, this book explores how the pots "play jokes," "make babies," "give power," and "hold water,” considering the sex pots as actual ceramic bodies that interact with fleshly bodies, now and in the ancient past. A beautifully written study that will be welcomed by students as well as specialists, Playing with Things is a model for archaeological and art historical engagement with the liberating power of queer theory and Indigenous studies.
This book will change the way you look at objects forever. Weismantel brings the world of the Moche alive in exhilarating new ways, offering her authoritative and brilliant insights into the body, gender, sexuality, and ways of seeing. Engaging, intimate and provocative, her text positively sparkles, and reveals much about us along the way.~Lynn Meskell, Stanford University, author of A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace
This beautifully written book is without parallel. It demonstrates a methodology to build from museum collections to long-term ecohistory; it demonstrates how to change analyses in light of indigenous and queer theory; and it does all that while also helping us better understand Moche social life. It will be widely read as a model outside of Moche studies, too.~Rosemary Joyce, University of California at Berkeley, author of Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives
What this book does very well is envision how these ceramic vessels were a part of people’s lives—their materiality and lively interaction with human bodies, as well as their social connections to the living and the dead that express notions of how life is generated, nurtured, and ensured...[Playing with Things provides] insights into how scholars can approach with fresh eyes subjects that we think we know.~Latin American Antiquity
Refereshing...This is an academic work – thoroughly researched, footnoted, and at times quite theoretical – but Weismantel’s style remains accessible, easy to understand, and rarely mired down in jargon.~Queer as Fact
Weismantel draws from a vast corpus of theory and ethnographic literature to support her arguments but does not dwell on usual concerns of Moche scholars, including ceramic chronology or regional and temporal variation within the Moche sphere...she offers fresh ideas and innovative approaches. The text is witty, engaging, and insightful and will be of interest within and beyond the broader field of anthropology. This book also demonstrates the potential of a fully integrated four-field anthropology in which specialists have the courage and inquisitiveness to venture past the traditional territorial boundaries of the subdisciplines.~Journal of Anthropological Research
Playing with Things provides groundbreaking interpretations of the Moche sex pots and presents frameworks important for material and visual culture studies.~caa.reviews
Note to the Reader
Introduction: The Moche Sex Pots
1. Modern Moche
2. Pots Play Jokes
3. Pots Make Babies
4. Pots Give Power
5. Pots Hold Water
Epilogue: Acolonial Things
The publication of Playing with Things was made possible by the support of the William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere.