A statue of Christopher Columbus that once stood in at the center of Mexico City’s most prominent boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma, will be replaced by a replica of a pre-Hispanic carving of an Indigenous woman, city officials shared earlier this week. The stone sculpture was unearthed earlier this year in January in the Huasteca region, along the Gulf of Mexico, and was dubbed the “Young Woman of Amajac,” after the village where it was discovered buried. However, the true identity of the figure represented remains a mystery. The National Institute of Anthropology and History said in statement at the time that the figure resembles depictions of a local fertility goddess.
The replica is projected to be three times the size of the six-foot-tall original, which is housed in Mexico City’s Museum of Anthropology. The figure’s pre-Hispanic aesthetic contrasts with the typical neoclassical monuments installed throughout Paseo de la Reforma. The rough stone sculpture is depicted with an open mouth and wide-eyed stare, which likely once held colored stones.
The replica will be placed atop the ornate base that previously displayed the 19th-century Columbus statue, which was removed last year, ostensibly for a planned restoration shortly before October 12 (the day on which the United States commemorates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, known in Mexico as Dia de la Raza or Day of the Race). The statue was a frequent target of graffiti and protests in Mexico City for the Italian navigator’s role in the genocide and cultural suppression of Mexico’s Indigenous peoples.
At a September event marking International Day of the Indigenous Woman, Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced plans to replace the statue with a new work honoring influential women in Mexican history. “We owe it to them. We exist because of them,” she said. “It is the history of our country and our homeland.” The Columbus statue will be resettled in an upscale neighborhood outside the city center.
Artist Pedro Reyes was commissioned to create the new monument, which would have depicted an Olmec woman, a member of one of the oldest civilizations of Mesoamerica. However his planned sculpture—a woman’s disembodied head placed atop a pedestal—was widely derided in the press and on social media. Critics also questioned the propriety of having a male, non-Indigenous artist create an artwork honoring native women. Sheinbaum cancelled the commission and asked a committee comprised of cultural institutions, government officials, and historians in the city to propose a replacement that would faithfully honor Mexican history prior to the Spanish arrival.
On Twitter, Sheinbaum described the project as the “decolonization of Paseo de la Reforma.”