Sculpture Journal

Circulating casts of the Coatlicue: Mariana Castillo Deball’s unearthing of the Aztec earth goddess’s history of reproduction and display

Sculpture Journal (2019), 28, (3), 365–380.


This essay delves into casts of the Aztec earth goddess, the Coatlicue, through the lens of a sculpture, No solid form can contain you (2010), by the contemporary Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball. In this sculpture, Castillo Deball created a fibreglass cast of the Coatlicue and placed it on the floor. These artistic decisions highlighted two important and yet understudied aspects of the Aztec monument – its frequent disinterment and reburial, and subsequent reproduction and circulation. This article traces these connected paths of the Coatlicue, from the cycles of unearthing to its circulation through publications and plaster cast copies. To theorize the importance of these copies, this article draws on a recent article by Bruno Latour and Adam Lowe. Major political shifts within the Mexican Republic had important consequences for the status of Aztec monuments such as the Coatlicue, as presidents Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz recuperated them as evidence of a powerful ancient civilization. Once feared as a ‘monstrous’ icon, the Coatlicue was transformed into a symbol of national identity and occupied a place of pride in the museum. In No solid form can contain you, Castillo Deball questions the political and museological apparatuses that have dictated the status of the Coatlicue. The essay argues that her work operates within a framework set out by Erica Segre whereby Mexican artists integrated images of the pre-Columbian past to ‘interrogate identity’. To create the work, Castillo Deball used the same strategies of replication and circulation, though by presenting the work with seams left unfinished and lying on the floor, she gestured towards the constructed nature of replicas and their history of display.

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Author details

Reynolds-Kaye, Jennifer