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Mariana Castillo Deball Designs a Work of Art for the Ethnologisches Museum

Humboldt Forum

A large installation by Mexican artist Mariana Castillo Deball – winner of the 2013 Preis der Nationalgalerie, accompanied in 2014–15 by the solo exhibition Mariana Castillo Deball. Parergon at Hamburger Bahnhof – is to be shown in the Mesoamerican exhibition hall at the Humboldt Forum.

Inspired by indigenous pictographic documents, Mariana Castillo Deball has created a work made from numerous tiles of fired clay arranged in a relief-like form dealing with subject matter found in two Central American pictographic manuscripts from the 16th century. The installation Codex Humboldt Fragment 1 / Codex Azoyú Reverso embellishes one of the most prominent rooms in the eastern wing of the Humboldt Forum, the one known as the Schweizer-Saal (Swiss Hall). Among its exhibits, this room displays powerful Cotzumalhuapa steles originating from a region that is now Guatemala. The 320 ceramic tiles in Castillo Deball’s work will almost completely fill the southern wall of this two-storey hall.

Another component of the art installation inspired by the pictographic originals is seating meant to entice visitors to sit and spend time at their leisure: “The surfaces, which are illustrated as seating in various codices, are moulded as woven mats – petates – that are still in use today. The white cement benches seem like stone versions of cloth and woven structures,” Mariana Castillo Deball said when describing part of her installation. Cooperation established within the context of this art project is also being strengthened with Mexican communities locally because the project is also having an effect in Mexico itself through the artist. 

Hermann Parzinger, president of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation), points out: “With this work of art, we continue to pursue our approach of bringing contemporary art from its country of origin into dialogue with our collections. Together with Lars-Christian Koch, the director of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin collections at the Humboldt Forum, and curator Maria Gaida, I thank Mariana Castillo Deball for sharing her perspective and creativity here at the Humboldt Forum. I would also like to express our exceptional thanks to the Friends of the Ethnologisches Museum for their considerable financial support, which is proof of extraordinary social engagement.”

The work’s realisation was made possible through long-term association support and a generous donation from the Verein der Freunde des Ethnologischen Museums e.V. (Friends of the Ethnologisches Museum): “It is a project at the Humboldt Forum that clearly manifests the connection between us and our museum, as well as Alexander von Humboldt’s worldview,” stated Jochen Brüning, chairman, Friends of the Ethnologisches Museum.

The Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss is also actively supporting the concept with the planning and realisation of a substructure for the artwork that is integrated into the building.

Codices „Codex Humboldt Fragment 1“ und „Codex Azoyú 2 Reverso“

The codices Codex Humboldt Fragment 1 and Codex Azoyú 2 Reverso are records of tax payments to the Aztec conquerors and ruling powers. They make it possible for us to learn about the tax system in a province that had surrendered to the Aztec empire. They are also important documents for examining an indigenous political economy as its people stood on the brink of a new conquest by the Spaniards. Alexander von Humboldt acquired the original fragment, the Codex Humboldt Fragment 1, during his visit to New Spain (1803–04) and brought it with him to Berlin. Today, it is in the collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library). Its counterpart, the Codex Azoyú 2 Reverso, was discovered in 1940 in the Mexican Free and Sovereign State of Guerrero. In 2009 the SPK and the Mexican Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) published the two text documents together as a combined manuscript in a bilingual facsimile edition with an interpretation of its subject matter.

Mariana Castillo Deball

Mariana Castillo Deball was born in Mexico City in 1975. She lives and works in Berlin. Castillo Deball closely interweaves art and research. Archaeological finds, which the artist analyses and presents through her cultural interpretations, are often the focus of her art. She places attention not only on traces of a thing’s use, but also on individual, free associations about the history of the found or already archived objects. Works completed in quite diverse media – including drawing, film, sculpture, installation and performance, with which Castillo Deball considerably expands the possibilities of artistic representation – result from this process of deconstruction.

Castillo Deball has had solo exhibitions at the New Museum, New York, USA (2019), the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago, USA (2018), the Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (2018), the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia, USA (2018), the Galerie Wedding, Berlin, Germany (2017), the San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco, USA (2016), the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca, Mexico (2015), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany (2014), the Musée Régional D’art Contemporain, Sérignan, France (2015), CCA, Glasgow, Great Britain (2013), the Chisenhale Gallery, London, Great Britain (2013), the Museo Experimentelles El Eco, Mexico City, Mexico (2011), and the Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach, USA (2010). Her group exhibitions include the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, Italy (2018), LACMA, Los Angeles, USA (2017), the 32nd São Paolo Biennial, Brazil (2016), the Liverpool Biennial, Great Britain (2016), the 8th Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Germany (2014), documenta 13, Kassel, Germany (2013), and the 54th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2011).