It comes at a time when PBS is doing a series on Native Americans. Her book tells us more about these fascinating cultures that lived in harmony with nature.
Pasztory is an art historian, specializing in Teotihuacan, Aztec, and Art Theory, as well as being a writer. She is a Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor Emerita of Pre-Columbian Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University.
Pasztory has published extensively in the field of pre-Columbian art, including the first art historical manuscripts on Teotihuacan and the Aztecs.
“I became interested in this field when I was taking an anthropology class at Barnard and we were told to write on some piece of primitive art and sent to some galleries. So when I went to graduate school, I decided to study “primitive” art. That consisted of all of Africa, all of Oceania from New Guinea to Easter Islands, all of North American Indian and the Amazon region of South America as well as pre-Columbian art which was kind of attached to primitive which included Mexico, Guatemala, Central America and the Andean regions. In fact this area was ¾ of the world that we studied. And it was all material that was unknown to most people,” said Pasztory.
“I was fascinated by their mystery and by the fact that I could be the first person to study some of these things. I could be a pioneer. I wrote a book on Aztec art that was the first book ever written on the subject. When I went to Mexico, and I saw the ruins, which were so impressive and so large, and yet they were made by people that had no metal tools, only stone ones to build pyramids the size of those in Egypt. I became fascinated by how and why they did this.”
Exile Space: Encountering Ancient and Modern America in Memoir, Essay, and Fiction has three main sections:
1. “Multiple Horizons: Tales From the Life of a Refugee” is the often humorous account of a Hungarian refugee trying to assimilate into American life and in the process discovering the Ancient American cultures of the Aztec, Maya, and Inca.
2. “Stone Age Civilization in the New World” is a controversial memoir about Ancient America as it compares to Europe, as an overview written in the freedom of retirement. It is written as advice to the BBC, which had recently interviewed her for a program called Civilizations.
3. “The Maya Vase” is a novel of fantasy in the reconstruction of ancient Maya life as seen through the eyes of a graduate student as the author once was, with comparisons to modern American life.
“The heroine of The Maya Vase is able like a shaman to travel between Tikal and a twenty-first-century archeology department . . . You’ll be absorbed in the parallel subtext that weaves like an Amerindian textile, warp and woof intentionally thinly veiled.”— George Nelson Preston, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art, CCNY/CUNY, Academico, Pierre Verger Chair, Academia Brasileira de Arte, Rio de Janeiro.
“This three-part memoir allows us to peek into the personal life experiences of a remarkable thinker and writer, and everyone who reads it will ultimately benefit in one way or another. The benefits, moreover, will be positive and uplifting, for the book is not only downright funny in places, but Esther makes it clear that she has no regrets about the rupture that changed her life forever. Her curiosity about the world, her sense of adventure, her ease at entering into someone else’s world . . . all combine to edify and enchant the reader. Enjoy.”— Cecelia F. Klein, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art History, UCLA.
Born in Hungary, she immigrated to the United States in 1956. With her dissertation at Columbia, entitled The Murals of Tepantitla, Teotihuacan, she received her PhD in 1971. She was recently a Visiting Professor at UCLA in Los Angeles. Esther now lives in San Francisco, California after moving from Deer Isle, Maine where she resided for a number of years.
She has taught the art of both Mesoamerica and the Andes and is immersed in a theoretical study of the relationship of art and society.
As she’s stated in her ground breaking book Thinking with Things (2005): “’Art’ does not reside in objects; it is society that decides what is and what isn’t art. Naturalism and abstraction are both always available to the artist if required by the social context. Depending on their size and complexity different societies have chosen specific types of styles and subjects for their communicating devices. The widespread use of writing fundamentally changes the role of things and puts them in a secondary position.”
Available online at Barnes&Noble.com, Amazon.com, and at local bookstores, $18.95. ISBN-13: 978-1882190829