Around 1557, more than 50 years after the fall of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in what is now Mexico City, a Franciscan friar and group of Nahua scholars wrote the Historia general de las cosas de nueva España (“General History of the Things of New Spain”). Organized into 12 volumes, the encyclopedic work was the culmination of three decades of research into the indigenous cultures of central Mexico — their history, economic and ritual practices, and the flora and fauna endemic to the region. Known commonly as the Florentine Codex, the manuscript features text in Nahuatl and Spanish, and over 2,000 illustrations in vivid ink and watercolor. It represents both an instrument of Spanish empire (once used to understand native practices with the goal of ultimately converting them to Christianity) and an invaluable document of precolonial systems of knowledge.

Since 2016, Los Angeles-based artist Sandy Rodriguez has created paintings inspired by this and other colonial-period codices in her ongoing project, Codex Rodriguez-Mondragón. Through botanical drawings, landscapes, maps, and portraits, Rodriguez seamlessly weaves together over 500 years of history in the Americas — from the time before European contact, to the colonial period which decimated the indigenous population, to contemporary concerns around migration and contested borders. Her latest works in the series are featured in You Will Not Be Forgotten at Charlie James Gallery in Los Angeles.

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