Playing with Things: Engaging the Moche Sex Pots (Hardcover)
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.
About the Author
Mary Weismantel is a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, where she has previously served as director of the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and as an adjunct curator at the Field Museum of Natural History. She received a PhD in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is the author of two books of ethnographic research in South America, Cholas and Pishtacos: Tales of Race and Sex in the Andes and Food, Gender and Poverty in the Ecuadorian Andes.
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.