Northwestern Events Calendar


GLOBAL LUNCHBOX | Mary Weismantel on her new book "Playing with Things: Engaging the Moche Sex Pots"

When: Friday, October 15, 2021
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CT

Where: Online

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free

Contact: Cindy Pingry  


Category: Global & Civic Engagement, Academic, Lectures & Meetings


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Please join us for the Global Lunchbox, a weekly forum convened by the Weinberg College Center for International and Area Studies that features conversations with scholars in the social sciences and humanities working on a range of global issues about their current research.

This week we'll hear from Mary Weismantel, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern and a faculty affiliate of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, about her just-published book Playing with Things: Engaging the Moche Sex Pots (University of Texas Press).

About the book

More than a thousand years ago on the north coast of Peru, Indigenous Moche artists created a large and significant corpus of sexually explicit ceramic works of art. They depicted a diversity of sex organs and sex acts, and an array of solitary and interconnected human and nonhuman bodies. To the modern eye, these Moche “sex pots,” as Mary Weismantel calls them, are lively and provocative but also enigmatic creations whose import to their original owners seems impossible to grasp.

In Playing with Things, Weismantel shows that there is much to be learned from these ancient artifacts, not merely as inert objects from a long-dead past but as vibrant Indigenous things, alive in their own human temporality. From a new materialist perspective, she fills the gaps left by other analyses of the sex pots in pre-Columbian studies, where sexuality remains marginalized, and in sexuality studies, where non-Western art is largely absent.

Taking a decolonial approach toward an archaeology of sexuality and breaking with long-dominant iconographic traditions, this book explores how the “pots play jokes, make babies, give power, and hold water,” considering the sex pots as actual ceramic bodies that interact with fleshly bodies, now and in the ancient past. A beautifully written study that will be welcomed by students as well as specialists, Playing with Things is a model for archaeological and art historical engagement with the liberating power of queer theory and Indigenous studies.

Praise for the book

“This book will change the way you look at objects forever. Weismantel brings the world of the Moche alive in exhilarating new ways, offering her authoritative and brilliant insights into the body, gender, sexuality, and ways of seeing. Engaging, intimate and provocative, her text positively sparkles, and reveals much about us along the way.” —Lynn Meskell, Stanford University

“This beautifully written book is without parallel. It demonstrates a methodology to build from museum collections to long-term ecohistory; it demonstrates how to change analyses in light of indigenous and queer theory; and it does all that while also helping us better understand Moche social life. It will be widely read as a model outside of Moche studies, too. ” —Rosemary Joyce, University of California at Berkeley

About the speaker

Mary Weismantel is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern, and is affiliated with the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program as well as the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. A cultural anthropologist, she writes about indigeneity in the Americas, with a focus on Andean South America (Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia). Her work engages new materialisms, decoloniality, and temporality, as well as [trans]gender, sexualities, and ontologies of the nonhuman. She also teaches about race and racism, Latin America, and ethnographic methods and writing. Her previous books include Food, Gender and Poverty in the Ecuadorian Andes (1989) and Cholas and Pishtacos: Tales of Race and Sex in the Andes (2001).

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