Cultural Identity 

Posted on July 4, 2017

What makes up a culture? Who decides the boundaries that keep one group in and another out? Is there such a thing as cultural ownership?
Growing up in northern New Mexico exposed me to a set of very specific influences in the arts, faith, language, economic traditions and social values. What sort of influence do they have on the process of creating or even seeing in the world?

James M. Cordova

While my father was raised catholic, I was brought up in a completely different tradition of faith. Do I have access to the imagery and narratives tied up in the cultural artifacts of the “Santeros”? Maybe it is all about cultural understanding and the ability maintain a link to the past while reinterpreting the images and traditions for contemporary creation.


Their construction, color and imagery is compelling for me, but I can barely tell you who St. Francis is.

I have studied the history of bultos and retablos. I have learned to grind my own pigments in very much the same way as the artisans that created this work had to do. I have worked with rabbit skin glue and created gesso the way it used to be made. I know the process, the parts and much of the purpose.

Maybe it comes down to story. What is the story we are telling by creating images and objects? Why are we sharing what we create or what catches our interest? It may also involve those who we are creating these memories and images for. (The process of consumption, curation and valuation.)

What is the line between imitation and deceptive fabrication? What can people take credit for when many artistic traditions rely on technical emulation? The bultos of northern New Mexico are largely an attempt to emulate the religious artifacts from European churches. The tools and materials of the isolated frontier impacted the objects that were created. Those limitations distilled the forms and purpose of these objects into the objects we have today. What remains intact if you don’t have bronze, marble or fine plaster to work with? Does the attempt at emulation become simply an imitation?

Saint Ferdinand Querétaro, Mexico, 1730-60 Paint, gold, gesso, wood