The study of colonialism necessitates an understanding of how encounters between different peoples occur in what is termed the contact zone, a social space in which disparate cultures encounter with the potential of clashing each other because of “highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination.” In the early and mid-16th century, an emerging Euro-centric desire to explore, discover, and settle in other territories in other parts of the world – namely, that territory across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe called the Americas – became a realized opportunity for the Spanish to colonize these new foreign lands. Such a lofty task was inevitably met with its own challenges, such as the need to ally with a reinforcing coalition, who shared a similar vision and had benign relations with the Spanish, and the need to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to facilitate dialogue between the Spanish and that other group.
Resolving the conflict that arises when two cultures encounter each other requires an dynamic, intermediary figure who can unite both parties under a common purpose.For the history of the Spanish conquest of Mexica, that figure is La Malinche, a Nahua woman who served as an intermediary cultural and linguistic translator for the Spanish and the indigenous people of Tlaxcala, both of whom sought to band together to take over Tenochtitlan Mexico. She has been portrayed in Mexican art ranging from the 16th century to the 20th century because her significant accomplishments and unique social identity make her both a celebrated and contested figure in colonial history. Because of her powerful achievements, Malinche has been depicted through different narratives in art that highlight the location of her colonial legacy through transculturation, a process in which marginalized groups form meaning out of information transmitted to them by the dominant or metropolitan culture.
Before we can introduce an analysis of three different artworks the center on Malinche, we must first acknowledge her background and identity in the context of the history to which she belonged. Malinche was a Nahua woman who is credited as having brought success to the Spanish conquest of Mexico in the early 16th century. Also known as Malintzen and Doña Marina, Malinche was celebrated by the people of her time for her role as a linguistic interpreter and cultural mediator between Hernán Cortés, the leader of the Spanish conquistadors, and Txicotencatl, the leader of the indigenous state of Tlaxcala, who sought to overcome cross-cultural and cross-linguistic barriers in order to align together to defeat Montecuzoma of Tenochtitlan Mexico. She is remembered in the colonial imagination for her diplomatic skills in mediating the transmission of power from the Aztec Empire to the Spanish Empire.