Alicia Reyes McNamara's new works continue their research into Mexican and Aztec mythology and visual cultures, and how it informs contemporary Latinx identities. Reyes McNamara’s recent paintings and works on paper revolve around the deity of Tlazoltéotl, an Aztec goddess who was originally an earth-mother goddess associated with fertility, sexuality, the earth, filth waste and dirt. Tlazoltéotl was thought to work in a number of related but sometimes seemingly contradictory ways, for example to purify sins but to also encourage people to participate in what were deemed by Aztec society as immoral sexual acts. The goddess was also thought to eat sins, turning filth and the rotting earth into verdant life. This ability to embrace duality was also seen in gender-fluid depictions of the goddess.
Under colonial rule, the goddess was demonized but Reyes McNamara is interested in retrieving the goddess for a contemporary postcolonial subjectivity that refuses singular positions. As in other recent works McNamara reclaims the subjectivity of female figures, erased or made negative presences by colonial discouse, and instead presents them as agents in charge of their surroundings bringing a different order to things as an alternative to patriarchal or colonial society. This alternate order can also be seen the in the plants, herbs and flowers that resulted from Tlazoltéotl’s purification of lust, filth and dirt which often had psychoactive properties. These plants feature in a number of Reyes McNamara’s new works, along with depictions of the goddess in various forms.
Reyes McNamara has said: “After much reading, I focused on Tlazolteotl, the deity of lust, sex workers, midwives and filth. I was attracted to the idea of rituals that explored filth as something that is inherently generative, that moved passed ideas of shame and focused on the growth and the life made through it. Tlazolteotl is a figure that lies in the in-between. They are the one that seduces you but also cleanses you of any residual negative energy that clouds your spirit. Known to eat sins, they are often portrayed with the dirt of the filthy deeds left around the bottom of their mouth. This blackness around their mouth is said to be the genesis of life. The decay and rot of any misdeed is digested and then released as a rich resource back to the earth.” (Interview for Whitechapel Open, 2022)