The Biographical Revolution in Plains Visual Culture, 1680–1880 CE

When the Spanish settled New Mexico at the close of the 16th century, their horses, guns, and agricultural crops were quickly appropriated by many local Indigenous communities. But Spanish colonialism also introduced European aesthetic conventions that had a marked effect on Indigenous visual cultures. This was particularly true on the Great Plains, where a dramatic new approach to image production—defined by James Keyser as the Plains Biographic Tradition—came to visually document the biographical exploits of Indigenous warriors and hunters. In this presentation, Severin argues that the Plains Biographic Tradition was inspired by the European tradition of history painting and originated during an intense period of cultural exchange at the end of the tumultuous 17th century in the Rio Grande Valley. Drawing on rock art evidence, Dr. Fowles builds toward a consideration of why this new mode of image production spread so rapidly, ultimately becoming essential to Indigenous political projects from Chihuahua to Alberta.