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Stephen D. Houston explores the complex system of Maya writing from ancient Mexico and Central America in this six-part series.

The Lectures

Maya writing of ancient Mexico and Central America represents a system of script and picture that never quite split apart yet never quite fused. In clouding such boundaries, text and image confound the idea of representation, and thus question distinctions between written records, depiction, and life itself. Recent decipherments of the script bring unexpected views to the surface, allowing worlds long silent to disclose their secrets.

The lectures will be held over six consecutive Sundays from April 16 to May 21, 2023, at 2:00 p.m. in the East Building Auditorium and streamed on YouTube Live. 

Registration will open at noon on Monday, March 27, for all six talks.

Stephen D. Houston

Photo: Nancy Houston

Stephen D. Houston serves as the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science at Brown University, where he has taught since 2004. Houston has prepared numerous books and articles, most recently Temple of the Night Sun: A Royal Maya Tomb at El Diablo, Guatemala. His work The Life Within: Classic Maya and the Matter of Permanence won the PROSE Award for Art History and Criticism in 2015. He also cocurated Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea, an exhibition exploring ecological aesthetics in Maya civilization.

Houston has been honored with a MacArthur Fellowship as well as fellowships and grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, National Science Foundation, Dumbarton Oaks, Clark Art Institute, and National Endowment for the Humanities. From 2018 to 2019, he served as the inaugural Kislak Chair at the Library of Congress, supporting interdisciplinary, in-depth research projects. In recognition of Houston’s scholarship, the president of Guatemala awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of the Quetzal, the country’s highest honor. 

The A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts

Inaugurated in 1949, the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts is the longest-running lecture series at the National Gallery of Art. The series was founded “to bring to the people of the United States the results of the best contemporary thought and scholarship bearing upon the subject of the Fine Arts.” Past lecturers have included art historians, artists, poets, and musicologists.

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Related Mellon Lectures

For the 59th Mellon Lectures, Art and Representation in the Ancient New World, Mary Miller presented a history of the reception of ancient and colonial Mesoamerican visual cultures, and an examination of the field of pre-Columbian art over the previous four decades.


Banner: Figure relief (detail), Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp, MAS.IB.2010.017.083, Collection Paul & Dora Janssen-Arts, Flemmisch Community, Brussels. Photo: Hugo Maertens