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The Sacred, Out of Context

In the foreground, a rough square slab resembling stone. It's slick with water, which pools in its nooks and crannies.
This sculpture is made of recently harvested copal, an aromatic tree resin considered by Mesoamerican people as the blood of trees, mixed with dust from the Peabody Museum’s collections of Mayan items dredged from the Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itzá. It’s sprinkled with Cambridge rainwater, collected right here in Radcliffe Yard, symbolizing the reunion of the Peabody’s copal incense fragments with the cenote water that initially preserved them. Photo by Kevin Grady

Gala Porras-Kims most recent work gives new life to sacred objects held in museum collections. In this special video feature, learn more about how her wide-ranging and multisited exhibition came to be.

Precipitation for an Arid Landscape—which grew out of research Gala Porras-Kim conducted during her time at Radcliffe, when she was the 2019–2020 David and Roberta Logie Fellow—presents new work that explores how sacred objects continue to perform their original functions once they enter museum collections and are subject to institutional paradigms of classification, conservation, and display.

Porras-Kim was drawn to Radcliffe because it enabled her research-focused approach to art making—and for its proximity to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, whose collections she was interested in, specifically items dredged from the Sacred Cenote of Chichén Itzá, a Maya site in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico.

With the help of Radcliffe’s curator of exhibitions, Meg Rotzel, Porras-Kim partnered with museum staff to develop the exhibition. This video, our magazine’s first-ever digital feature, serves as an introduction to art at the Institute as well as this body of work, which has been making art-world headlines since it began its multisite debut. Through the commentary of Rebecca Mendoza Nunziato—an MDiv candidate at Harvard Divinity School and summer 2022 fellow in pre-Columbian studies at Dumbarton Oaks who identifies as Chicana—we also learn more about the impact of Porras-Kim’s artwork, which manages to imbue these sacred objects with new life by once again recontextualizing them. 

Precipitation for an Arid Landscape is on view through June 30, 2022, in the Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery, in Byerly Hall. Other installments were on view at Amant, in Brooklyn (in collaboration with KADIST), November 20, 2021–March 17, 2022, and Gasworks, in London, January 27–March 27, 2022. The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis is also showing her work through July 24, 2022.

Gala Porras-Kim Cc3029 Radcliffe Courtesy

Gala Porras-Kim, 44 offerings for the rain at the Peabody Museum (detail), 2021. Graphite and ink on paper, frame, 48.5 x 36.5 x 2 in. Image courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council. Click to watch the video.

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