Felipe Gutiérrez (he/him)
PhD Candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Felipe Gutiérrez is a PhD candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. His research focuses on relationships between the tangible cultural heritage, literature, and visual arts of Colombia and Spain through the study of golden items, treasures, and gold as raw material from a transatlantic perspective. Felipe was awarded a 2022–23 Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship from The Block Museum.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
I specialize in Latin American and Iberian literatures of the 19th and early 20th centuries, with special emphasis on issues of material and visual culture. In my thesis, I focus on tracking and analyzing the relationship between tangible cultural heritage, literature, and visual arts in Colombia and Spain, particularly through the study of gold pieces from a transatlantic perspective. My case studies range from sunken Spanish vessels loaded with gold treasures to ancient indigenous sacred goldwork exhibited in national museums. I try to analyze how golden treasures become cultural heritage, and how literature and visuality intervene in this process or create heritage value by themselves. This research has led me to critically engage with a variety of diverse objects and spaces, such as museums, exhibitions, and collections, along with literary works and visual archives.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
For as long as I can remember, I've had a fascination with antiques. As a child, my mother was an antique enthusiast, and I grew up in a house surrounded by them. My home was then my own museum, where things were endowed with a special magical power—the power to travel through time—and arranged in space with my mother's personal (curatorial) touch. I remember holding an ancient object in my hand was the beginning of all kinds of imagination, wondering how many people could have held the same object in their hands before me, and how many more could hold it after me. I liked the idea that material things could survive us and that I was part of their history.
I guess that's where part of my interest in literature comes from, too: textual voices connecting people at different times in history. As I've become older, and the term “heritage” came to me, part of my intellectual effort has been to understand how it works. In other words, to decipher how and by what means an object becomes a patrimonial object, how we decide which objects are considered as such, and where their value and their magical bewitching power derives from.
In a similar way, I was captivated by the characteristics of gold, a mineral that for centuries has betokened human desire and encapsulated the question of value itself, and that mimics the problem of eternity from its very materiality: a matter that is incorruptible and can “last forever.” Gold has played a central role in the history of my country, not only because Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers, but also because of the importance it had for indigenous communities, as you can see when walking through the famous Gold Museum in Bogotá, which houses the world's largest collection of ancient indigenous gold artifacts. It seemed natural to me to try to connect my heritage obsession with gold.
What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work?
As a literary scholar who has primarily worked with texts, dealing with objects and images has been a fascinating and challenging task. I have been pushed to try and learn from different disciplines and acquire new skills that were not specific to my own discipline and previous work, as most of my case studies have been covered primarily by history, archeology, or anthropology. But at the same time, literature and cultural studies have shed new light on the study of these objects, with different connections and unexplored perspectives. I guess that's one of the most rewarding feelings of my job: discovering that I could be bridging separate fields of knowledge and, in doing so, broadening them as well.
I chose Northwestern because the Department of Spanish and Portuguese has a strong tradition in 19th century studies, a field in which I specialize. I found a good number of professors I could work with, such as Nathalie Bouzaglo and Alejandra Uslenghi, whose work has deeply marked my research, skills, and interests since I joined. More recently, Miguel Caballero joined the department and became my adviser. He works with monuments, literature, and heritage in modern Spain. With him, I have been able to deepen my interest in heritage issues and expand my field and research to the Iberian Peninsula. My professors have been an inspiration and have guided and motivated my work at the University. In addition to this, Northwestern has allowed me to explore my questions through different disciplines, such as Anthropology and Art History. Interdisciplinarity has been a necessary and valuable perspective for my project!
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
There are two projects that currently excite me, in addition to my thesis. On the one hand, I am co-curating an exhibition on the photographic work of Rosalie Favell at The Block Museum, scheduled for Fall 2023. She is a Native Canadian artist whose photography deals with Indigenous legacies and identities. The exhibit is part of a larger effort at The Block to recognize and engage with Native American heritage in the Chicagoland area, the Midwest, and North America in general.
On the other hand, I am chair of The Nineteenth Century Series, a project that two colleagues and I started during the pandemic. It is an annual cycle of talks in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese related to 19th century studies in the Luso-Hispanic world. This year, the third edition of our series explores how the rise of museums, exhibitions, and collections shaped modern notions of material and visual culture from that period onward.
Published: February 7, 2023
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