ISM Fellows in Conversation | The Art of Chewing: Mopa Mopa Objects in the Colonial Andes, Catalina Ospina

February 16, 2022


Interviewed by Clare Byrne (M.A.R. religion & music ‘22)

ISM Fellow and art historian Catalina Ospina investigates the oral production of resin-glossed mopa mopa objects by indigenous colonial Andean artists in her project, Identifying and Subverting Epistemic Asymmetries in the Colonial Andes.

It was on a field trip in Quito, Ecuador that Ospina first came upon a mopa mopa object: a small box decorated with flowers, sitting in nun’s bedroom at a monastery museum. Immediately drawn to its light-reflecting resin finish, Ospina recalls that she “couldn’t tell what it was made with. And as an art historian, you really develop a sensibility for these things.” When she discovered that it was produced in colonial times by indigenous artists who chewed the resin in their mouths, Ospina embarked on an unusual and ground-breaking inquiry. Focusing on how the objects were made during the colonial period has led Ospina to question many colonially-based assumptions about the significance of mopa mopa objects for the indigenous artists who created them.