Pedro Reyes’s Totemic Sculptures Shed Light On America’s Pre-Columbian History


The artist is known for his highly political practice which addresses social issues through sculpture, performance, and video, with the intention of highlighting individual agency and fostering dialog about global politics. In his latest body of work, Reyes explores the complexities of American history with a collection of carved stone sculptures, rendered in volcanic stone, jadeite, and white marble, that allude to the plethora of symbolic objects from Mayan, Olmec, Toltec, and Mexican heritages. Using the artistic and architectural language and geometric vocabulary of pre-Columbian civilizations, his totemic, abstract sculptures are a socio-political critique of the United States of America and the larger continent it occupies, as well as its history of enslavement and its genocide of Indigenous Peoples. Carving into the spirituality of stone, with the sculpture series, Reyes further aims to bring an ancient practice to the fore, exalting a discipline that dates back over 35 centuries. “I am fascinated by the resilience of direct carving in stone. Once a stone has been carved, it earns its permanent place in the world,” he says.


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