The work of Mexican artist Claudia Peña Salinas is inspired by indigenous thinking and worldviews calling attention to the Americas collective cultural memory. Salinas’s Quetzalli is a site-specific installation at DePaul Art Museum that centers on the Aztec headdress, Penacho de Moctezuma, an object that has become a symbol of national identity for both Mexico and Austria. Quetzalli highlights the issues around the provenance of ancient artifacts and the role museums play in formulating cultural identities.
Salinas reconceptualizes images of the Penacho de Moctezuma, a headdress that most likely belonged to Moctezuma II, the ninth ruler of the Aztec empire from 1502 to 1520. It is one of the few surviving relics of its kind, made of 500 tail plumes of quetzals, a bird typical to the regions of southern Mexico and Guatemala. This object was a gift from Moctezuma II to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, and in the late nineteenth century it was acquired by the Austrian geologist and explorer Ferdinand von Hochstetter. The original quetzal headdress is now housed in the collection of the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna and has become a cultural icon of Austria.
The repatriation of this object has been a point of dispute between the governments of Austria and Mexico up to the present day. No similar pieces remain in Mexico, and over the last century and a half, the headdress has become a symbol of Mexican national and indigenous identity. Claudia Peña Salinas’s Quetzalli consists of a composite image of the authentic quetzal headdress housed in the collection of the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna and of that of the replica found in the collection of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
This site-specific installation of Claudia Peña Salinas’ work, which dominates the entirety of the museum’s front windows is curated by Ionit Behar, DPAM Assistant Curator as part of DePaul Art Museum’s Latinx initiative and is viewable from the exterior of the museum throughout the entirety of its run.
Claudia Peña Salinas
photocopy and wax monoprint on wood panel
20 x 16 in.