Tatiana Parcero, Cartografía Interior #35 (1996)

Léa Sainz-Gootenberg
March 21, 2024

Tatiana Parcero’s photographic practice is centered on the creation of historical and personal reflections on the self and the body, aiming to go beyond the physical realm, exploring the implications of memory, ritual, and lineage. Cartografía Interior #35 (1996) is a prime example of her style and usage of symbolic motifs (Fig. 1). Parcero speaks a specific visual language through her recognizable and iconic consistency, juxtaposing her body against images of maps, charts, and codices. By overlapping these images, Parcero explores the corporeal as more than just physical, rather, a map of endless histories and meanings.

Fig. 1 Tatiana Parcero, Cartografía Interior #35, 1996, Chromogenic print and acetate, 9 3/8 × 6 3/16" (23.8 × 15.7 cm). Museum of Modern Art 66.2020. [Link to source]

Tatiana Parcero’s Cartografía Interior #35 is a photograph composed of two overlapping images. Parcero’s face is printed on acetate behind plexiglass, layered over a chromogenic print of the codex.1 The glass creates distance between the two images, creating an illusion of one layer floating above the other. The first image is a black and white self-portrait, where her eyes are closed peacefully, and her hands are resting on the sides of her face. Her features are visible but somewhat obscured by the underlying color image. This image comes from a 16th-century codex, Codex Tudela, which is a colonial manuscript that described religious ceremonies and rituals of the Aztec, complete with hundreds of illustrations.2 Parcero’s choice to place a black and white image of herself over writing and drawings from the colonial era works to question the idea of Indigenous practices being ancient or obsolete. Photography is a more contemporary medium, one which aims to capture and consider pieces of “reality” across time. Yet, Parcero deliberately places the photograph in the foreground, fading herself into the background as the drawing takes center stage. The drawing is in full color and vibrancy, set into the mode of the present rather than the past.

Parcero does not arbitrarily superimpose these images; she forges a visual connection between her own corporeal form and this manuscript of Pre-Columbian civilization. The two central figures have their hands outstretched over Parcero’s eyebrows, and their feet seem to dangle off of her eyelashes. The plant at the bottom of the page emerges from the negative space between her hands and face and grows over her mouth and nose. Her face is only faintly visible superimposed atop the codex, as if the codex encompasses her physical form. There is a sense that the viewer is separated from the subject—as her eyes are closed, we cannot fully see her. The result is a conversation between the legacy of the codices and the present history of mestizaje. By drawing a direct link between a present embodiment of the self, and a codex which demonstrates the colonial precursors of mixture and mestizo existence, Parcero acknowledges the historical complications of constructing identity. In the years following the Mexican Revolution, the Mexican government ventured to create a uniform identity that was racially undefined, rather, taking elements from a mythicized Pre-Columbian past, and constructing an imaginary union between Spanish and Indigenous ancestors.3 Parcero connects the self to this mythic hybridity particularly in the purposeful and constructed collage of images from Aztec, Maya, and Mixtec sources, pointing to how notions of origin were altered with political and historical movements. We also gain a sense of Parcero’s own personal connection to the past: her closed eyes are superimposed over the deities, as if she is in a reflective state, not fully awake, but imagining the ways in which her singular form is linked to both the colonial past and the divine ceremonies of the Aztec. The shapes, colors, and lines of the codices and maps mirror the physical elements of bodies and skin; forming a relation between marks of age on bodies and marks of histories.

To further unearth the layers of Parcero’s work, it is essential to look at the original context of the page which she chooses to layer herself with, as well as the origins, meanings, and importance of the colonial codex. The Codex Tudela is a book which enumerates and illustrates the ritual cycles of the Aztec calendar. Rather than being made to preserve Aztec religious practices, the Tudela was an ethnographic text that was assembled with the goal of understanding Aztec religion in order to ensure its systemic destruction. Still, the colonial texts relied heavily on the knowledge and craft of Indigenous artists and writers, as the textual portions of the codex are in both Nahuatl and Spanish. A central concern of Aztec religion, and a critical subject of surviving pre-Hispanic texts, is the calendar, which was more than a marker of time, tracking ritual traditions and organizing all aspects of life.4 To reorder and track the Aztec calendar and sacrificial rituals into a colonial document changes the Pre-Columbian notions of time, presupposing them into being stagnant remnants of the past, or traditions of a culture that is long gone. It is important to consider the calendar as more than a tracking of time: the Aztec calendar is concerned with arranging time and space, and even human life. Time characterized all actions and events, creating a nonlinear link between the present, past, and future.

Like several other codices, the Tudela depicts the 260-day calendar, the tonalpohualli, across a wide spread of pages, organizing each day into its corresponding trecena, or thirteen-day period. Amongst colonial codices, the Tudela is particularly interesting because of how it structures the 260-day count. It divides the 260-day count into four periods of 65 days, each consisting of five different trecenas. There are two-page spreads for each trecena, visually depicting them with drawings of different gods and birds connected to each day. After every five trecenas, or 65 days, there is an image of one of the four directions, represented with its associated patron deities and cosmic tree, starting east and going clockwise.5 The first cardinal direction in Tudela, east, is the image used in Parcero’s Cartografía Interior #35 (Fig. 2). Other codices, like the Fejérváry-Mayer and the Borgia, also depict the four directions, but with a completely different pairing of trees and deities than the Tudela, which does not associate birds with the cardinal directions. The god that obscures Parcero’s left is Tlaloc, the rain god, and the one covering the right side is Tonatiuh, the sun god.6

Fig. 2. Codex Tudela, f. 97r, c. 1530-1554. Pigments on amate paper, 21 x 15.5 cm. Museo de América, Madrid 70400. [Link to source]

Fig. 3. Codex Tudela, f. 125r, c. 1530-1554. Pigments on amate paper, 21 x 15.5 cm. Museo de América, Madrid 70400. [Link to source]

To consider why Parcero chose to visually connect her own body to a single page in Codex Tudela, we must consider how Parcero characterizes notions of time visually, and how the tonalpohualli conceptualizes time as a visual cycle. Not only did the Aztecs imagine time through the supernatural and spiritual realms, but also as a cycle of all events, whether historical or religious. Each day in the calendar has specific meanings, fates, and histories linked to it, thus creating a circular juncture of time.7 Time was not only important in a larger representation of history and the past, but it also governed the details of individuals’ lives and deaths. In the Tudela itself, this relationship between the divine, the body, and fate is apparent in the final page of the codex (Fig. 3). A deerskin body spreads out across a full page, with different day signs represented by animal glyphs covering various parts of the deer. Descriptions of each day sign are scribbled underneath, assigning a specific fate to those born on a certain day sign. For example, those born with a day sign depicted on the head of the animal will be knowledgeable, those born at the hooves of the hind legs will be travelers, and those born around the thighs will be “vicious adulterers.” In many ways, Parcero’s visual style and specific usage of a divinatory codex continues this cyclical idea, dividing time into a spatial form, the body. Parcero herself is imagining a juncture by which she can access the past, but also imagine a present and future form of her own identity.

In using colonial codices in her Cartografía Interior series, Parcero considers the function of these objects in classifying and containing land, in both the colonial history of México, and in subjugating the physical form. The Codex Tudela is now held at an archeological museum in Spain, despite its Mexican origins. While Parcero herself has commented on her series, saying that it was a way in which she reconnected herself with her identity, there is a clear tension in her work between personal identity and the struggle for autonomy.8 While technically self-portraiture, overlapping images with her body so frequently and repeatedly alters Parcero’s self into something of a universal symbol. We are not given permission to fully access her portrait, rather, there is interruption through the layered imagery and faint overlayer of Parcero’s face. Inherently, the use of the female body furthers the question of subjugation and land. Colonial documents serve as a form of visual hegemony, flattening the histories and the meanings of land and people, thus, projecting these images of Aztec art under colonial rule over a living, breathing body is to reclaim lost territory.


1. Holly Myers, "Revolution & Ritual: The Photographs of Sara Castrejón, Graciela Iturbide, and Tatiana Parcero," Scripps Magazine, October 2017, 27. https://issuu.com/scrippscollege/docs/2017-fall.

2. Elizabeth Hill Boone, Descendants of Aztec Pictography: The Cultural Encyclopedias of Sixteenth-Century Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2023), 132.

3. Federico Navarrete, “The Myth of Mestizaje,” trans. and ed. Ellen Jones, Los Angeles Review of Books, November 27, 2020, https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-myth-of-mestizaje/.

4. Elizabeth Hill Boone, Cycles of Time and Meaning in the Mexican Books of Fate (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007), 14.

5. Boone, Descendants of Aztec Pictography, 133.

6. Códice Tudela (Madrid: Ediciones Cultura Hispánica, 1980).

7. Boone, Cycles of Time and Meaning, 13.

8. Tatiana Parcero, “Interior Cartography #35,” Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen Kornblum, (Museum of Modern Art, 2022), https://www.moma.org/audio/playlist/321/4192.

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