Sanja Savkic Sebek


Dr Sanja Savkic Sebek
Research Associate
Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte
Humboldt Universität
Georgenstraße 47
10117 Berlin

Research project

The Lives of Things in Mesoamerica

Mixtec tripod plate (cat. no. 07.0-02657), Cultures of Oaxaca Room, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. Drawing by Claudia Ros Gómez

This research project considers Mesoamerican images and objects within a larger framework of relational ontologies to examine the ways in which the social lives of human and non-human actors intersect and interact. This approach is thereby located at the crossroads of art history and anthropology. On the one hand, this project draws from A. Warburg’s reflections on the migration of images, forms and ideas, while also pursuing an open approach through the heuristic potential of native theories and (artistic) practices. Notably, it adopts the Warburgian idea of Bilderfahrzeuge, ‘image vehicles,’ which has been further unfolded in numerous theoretical dimensions. Of particular interest is not only the mediality, but also the materiality of images. As such it attends to the relationship between the discourses relating to the image, as well as the thing, which are often treated separately in scholarship. This is especially relevant given that, in an Amerindian context, the image and material aspects are not so easily differentiated.

In this research, ‘images-vehicles’ (a term newly elaborated for Amerindian expressions) ‘move’ and ‘travel’ across all borders: spatially and temporally, as well as between ‘worlds,’ which consist of human and other-than-human agents (ancestors, past communities, deities, other species, and artifacts). Of central concern are the ways in which Mesoamerican rulers, ritual specialists and artists obtain power, and how it is shown/materialized in different types of media. Given that in Amerindian ontological worldviews time-space assumes a particular form, the matter of moving from one place-time to another, and relating to beings from other spheres of existence, is highly complex. This is reflected in Amerindian iconographic traits and styles, as well as in the ways in which different ‘materials’ have been acquired. These characteristics will be shown in anumber of examples from Mesoamerica, particularly in different types of assemblages from pre-Columbian times to the present day.


Sanja Savkic Sebek is an art historian who received her MA and PhD from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), where she studied indigenous arts from the Americas. Universidad Nacional awarded her doctoral dissertation on ancient Maya art and architecture with the Alfonso Caso Medal. Sanja was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas – UNAM, the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, and at the Kunsthistorisches Institut (KHI) in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut. In Berlin, she also collaborated with the Ethnologisches Museum concerning the exhibition of its Mesoamerican collection at the Humboldt Forum. Presently she is a research associate in the international research group “Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology,” and is affiliated to the KHI and Humboldt University of Berlin.

Publications (selection)

Books and edited volumes

with Hannah Baader, Culturas visuales indígenas y las prácticas estéticas en las Américas desde la antigüedad hasta el presente [Indigenous Visual Cultures and Aesthetic Practices in the Americas’ Past and Present], Estudios Indiana 13, Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2019, 431 pp. ISBN: 978-3-7861-2831-1 (in paperback and Open Access)

Book reviews

–, by Adam Herring

– Amerindian Research, by Ursula Thiemer-Sachse

Valores plástico-formales del arte maya del Preclásico tardío a partir de las configuraciones visuales de San Bartolo, Petén, Guatemala (Doctoral Dissertation in Art History (2012), Facultad de Filosofía y LetrasUNAM), Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Dirección General de Publicaciones y Fomento Editorial – Dirección General de Cómputo y Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación – Dirección General de Evaluación Institucional – Colección Ciencia Nueva: Doctorados UNAM, 2016, 366 pp., and 2 plates. ISBN: 978-607-02-5715-5 (Ebook)

Journal essays/ articles

forthcoming: with Alonso Rodrigo Zamora Corona, “Amantecayotl Glyphs Revisited: Writing and Featherworking in the Florentine Codex”, in: Miradas: Decolonial Theory, Transculturation, and Latin American Positions – Entangling Art Histories, University of Heidelberg.

“Pirámide de las Pinturas de San Bartolo, El Petén, Guatemala: espacialidad”, in: Estudios de Cultura Maya, vol. L, Mexico: Centro de Estudios Mayas, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, UNAM, 2017, pp. 61–94.

“Composition, perception and signification of the Maya Late Preclassic images on the corners of the edifices”, in: Matica Srpska Proceedings for Fine Arts 42, Novi Sad: Matica srpska, 2014, pp. 13–26.

“Architecture at San Bartolo, El Peten, Guatemala: Object and Subject”, in: Anthropology 14, vol. 1, Journal of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Belgrade: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, 2014, pp. 79–95.

“Léxico cromático y la ideología maya”, in: Estudios de Cultura Maya 36, Mexico: Centro de Estudios Mayas, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas, UNAM, 2011, pp. 99–119.

Essays for edited volumes

forthcoming: “La serpiente con plumas y otros polimorfos con rasgos serpentinos en la imaginería maya temprana”, in: Animalística: Memorias del XXXVIII Coloquio Internacional de Historia del Arte, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, Mexico City.

forthcoming: “La integración plástica en la sexta fase arquitectónica del grupo Las Pinturas de San Bartolo, Guatemala”, in: Arquitectura y Otras Artes, ed. by Verónica Hernández Díaz, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, Mexico City.

with Erik Velásquez García, “Writing as a Visual Art: The Maya Script”, in: Motion: Transformation, Proceedings of the 35th Congress of the International Committee of the History of Arts (Florence, 1–6 Sep. 2019), Part 1, ed. by Marzia Faietti and Gerhard Wolf, Bologna: Bononia University Press, pp. 235–242, 2021.

“Introducción. Manifestaciones y prácticas visuales amerindias”, and “Introduction. Amerindian Visual Manifestations and Practices”, in: Sanja Savkić, ed., en colaboración con Hannah Baader, Culturas visuales indígenas y las prácticas estéticas en las Américas desde la antigüedad hasta el presente, Estudios Indiana 13, Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Gebr. Mann Verlag, pp. 7–27 and 29–48, 2019.

“The Appropriation of Space and Time through the Built Environment: The Case of the Las Pinturas Group at San Bartolo, Guatemala”, in: Signs of Place: A Visual Interpretation of Landscape, Berlin Studies of the Ancient World 69, ed. by Rebecca Döhl and Julian Jansen van Rensburg. Berlin: Edition Topoi, pp. 185–199, 2019. DOI 10.17171/3-69

with Massimo Stefani, “La Gran Plaza de Calakmul en el Preclásico tardío”, in: Proceedings of the Primer Congreso Internacional Patrimonio Cultural y Nuevas Tecnologías: Una Visión Contemporánea, online publication, 2015. S. Savkic: Text; M. Stefani: 3D images and videos.

Conference Papers/ Lectures/ Talks

“Art and Architecture at San Bartolo, Guatemala: The Case of ‘Las Pinturas Group’, Course Gods, Temples, and Palaces: An Overview of Mesoamerican Architecture org. by Elizabeth Baquedano, BSS Online, Bloomsbury Summer School, University College London, 26 Mar. 2022

with Alonso Rodrigo Zamora Corona, “Los jeroglíficos de los amantecas: escritura y arte plumario en el libro IX del Códice Florentino”, Primer Congreso Temas Novohispanos: Historia, Arte y Literatura, El Colegio de Morelos, Mexico, online, 3 Dec. 2021

with Johannes Neurath, “The Aztec Templo Mayor Offerings as Vehicles of Enacted Relations Between Worlds”, Horst Bredekamp’s Colloquium at the Institut für Kunst- und Bildgeschichte, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, online, 23 Nov. 2020

“St Joseph with the Child” (Mexican 18th-century feather mosaic), Mesoamerican Collection of the Ethnologisches Museum zu Berlin (cat. no. IV Ca 25), Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max-Planck-Institut für Kunstgeschichte’s workshop Blick Richtung Europa? Fünfzehn Perspektiven [Looking towards Europe? Fifteen perspectives], Harnack-Haus – Conference Center of the Max Planck Society, Berlin, 8 Jul. 2020

“Plants in the Ancient Maya World”, Research and fellowship program 4A Laboratory: Art Histories, Archaeologies, Anthropologies, Aesthetics, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, online, 12 May 2020

with Johannes Neurath, “Imágenes-vehículos entre mundos. Enfoque relacional en el estudio de las ofrendas y los altares mesoamericanos”, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, Mexico City, 20 Feb. 2020

“Art Historical Approaches to Mesoamerica: Obsolete, Toxic, or . . . ?”, Toxic Art Histories. A workshop by the International Research Group “Bilderfahrzeuge. Aby Warburg’s Legacy and the Future of Iconology”, Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 8 Nov. 2019

with Erik Velásquez García, “‘Arts in Letters’: The Aesthetics of Ancient Maya Script”, Session 5: De/Sign and Writing, International Congress CIHA, Florence, Italy, 5 Sep. 2019

“The Lives of Things in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and Early Colonial New Spain”, Ringvorlesung Sommersemester 2019 BildFahrZeug: Zur Zirkulation von Artefakten, University of Hamburg, 21 May 2019

“Estudio de la cultura visual y las transferencias artísticas en el sureste mesoamericano en el periodo Preclásico”, Simposio Estudio de la imagen indígena en América: temas y problemas, ICA 2018, 56th International Congress of Americanists, Salamanca, Spain, 16 July 2018

“The Materiality of the Classic Maya Artifacts”, Fashioned from Holy Matter. A Cross-Cultural Workshop on the Semantics of Image-Making, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut, 6 July 2017

“La integración plástica en la sexta fase arquitectónica de la Pirámide de las Pinturas de San Bartolo, Guatemala”, Segundo Coloquio del Seminario de Arquitectura y Urbanismo “La arquitectura y otras artes”, Mexico City, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM, 13 Mar. 2017

“Engaging Preclassic Maya Visual Configurations at San Bartolo, Guatemala”, XX. Mesoamerikanistik-Tagung-2017, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum – Kulturen del Welt, Cologne, and Universität Bonn, 21 Jan. 2017

with Massimo Stefani, “Narrativas a través del entorno construido de la Gran Plaza de Calakmul”, Primer Congreso Internacional de Arquitectura e Iconografía Precolombina, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, 16 Nov. 2016

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