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Vital Voids

Vital Voids
Cavities and Holes in Mesoamerican Material Culture

An innovative study argues that in Mesoamerica, holes were conceived and produced as conduits of vital forces and material abundance, prerequisites for the emergence of life.

May 2021
Not yet published

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280 pages | 7 x 10 | 88 color and 13 b&w photos, 6 color and 14 b&w illus. |

The Resurrection Plate, a Late Classic Maya dish, is decorated with an arresting scene. The Maize God, assisted by two other deities, emerges reborn from a turtle shell. At the center of the plate, in the middle of the god’s body and aligned with the point of emergence, there is a curious sight: a small, neatly drilled hole.

Art historian Andrew Finegold explores the meanings attributed to this and other holes in Mesoamerican material culture, arguing that such spaces were broadly understood as conduits of vital forces and material abundance, prerequisites for the emergence of life. Beginning with, and repeatedly returning to, the Resurrection Plate, this study explores the generative potential attributed to a wide variety of cavities and holes in Mesoamerica, ranging from the perforated dishes placed in Classic Maya burials, to caves and architectural voids, to the piercing of human flesh. Holes are also discussed in relation to fire, based on the common means through which both were produced: drilling. Ultimately, by attending to what is not there, Vital Voids offers a fascinating approach to Mesoamerican cosmology and material culture.

  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. What’s in a Hole? Material Culture and Interpretation
  • Chapter 2. Perforated Vessels: Revitalizing the Discourse Surrounding “Kill Holes”
  • Chapter 3. Cavities in the Living Earth
  • Chapter 4. The Act of Drilling
  • Chapter 5. Perforating the Body
  • Chapter 6. Conclusions: Beyond the Resurrection Plate
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Andrew Finegold is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was founding president of the Pre-Columbian Society of New York. He is coeditor of Visual Culture of the Ancient Americas: Contemporary Perspectives and maintains the blog Ancient Americas, Appropriated: Modern Representations of the Pre-Columbian Past.