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‘Monumental’ research

Fall master's graduate seeks to disrupt traditional narratives in public spaces

special feature: Class of 2023

The Gazette’s latest special feature celebrates Memorial’s newest alumni.

By Joshua Goudie

When Nadia Ruiz Peralta travelled from Mexico to attend Memorial University in St. John’s, she left her home country for the very first time.

And while international travel can often lead to culture shock for some, the new master of arts (archaeology) graduate says it didn’t take long for her to feel like a part of her new community.

“The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are some of the friendliest and most welcoming individuals I’ve ever met,” she said. “They make you feel loved and right at home.”

Examining the past

Archaeology has been a core part of Ms. Ruiz Peralta’s life since childhood.

“I have fond memories of visiting archaeological sites in the regions where my family originates. Exploring archaeological sites throughout Mexico has been a cherished family tradition that I’ve enjoyed since as far back as I can remember.”

Nadia Ruiz Peralta, a brown woman in her early 20s, stands in front of a large claret-coloured Memorial University sign on a cold day with snow on the ground.
Nadia Ruiz Peralta focused on public monuments for her master of arts degree.
Photo: Submitted

Her family hails from two distinct states in Mexico: Campeche in the Yucatan peninsula and Guerrero in the southwest of the country.

Prior to being accepted into the master’s program in the Department of Archaeology in Memorial’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Ms. Ruiz Peralta pursued her undergraduate studies at Mexico’s National School of Anthropology and History.

The experience culminated with a thesis proposal for a curatorial script within the historical archaeology exhibit at the Templo Mayor Museum in Mexico City.

Throughout her academic journey, Ms. Ruiz Peralta’s interests have revolved around the question of who archaeology ultimately serves.

Her work explores themes of feminism, the public appropriation of space and the use of archaeological artifacts in building narratives about the past.

Disrupting the narrative

For her master’s research while at Memorial, she became focused on counter-monumentality.

Also known as anti-monumentality, the concept stems from contemporary art and seeks to challenge traditional views of public memorials, which often use public spaces to present sanitized, state-approved narratives.

“My experience [at Memorial] transformed me into a better archaeologist and allowed me to find my own voice as a researcher.” — Nadia Ruiz Peralta

Ms. Ruiz Peralta’s research has been particularly topical in light of recent societal conversations centred on racism, sexism and colonialism. Increasingly, public monuments have been defaced, destroyed or subjected to calls for their removal.

Her thesis paid special attention to the Mexican monument to Christopher Columbus (Paseo de la Reforma) and delved into how societies around the world interact with their heritage.

“The prevailing notion is that heritage belongs to everyone and is intended for all,” she said. “However, I sought to explore the complex dynamics that come into play when society decides that a particular object is no longer suitable for public display.”

‘Made that dream a reality’

Ms. Ruiz Peralta won’t be attending her upcoming convocation ceremony in St. John’s on Oct. 19, as she returned home to Mexico at the end of her program.

Even so, for Ms. Ruiz Peralta and other graduates like her who completed most of their studies in virtual spaces due to the pandemic, distance does little to make them feel any less a part of the Memorial community.

“I know it might sound like a cliché, but ever since I was a child, I dreamed of pursuing a master’s degree in Canada. Memorial University made that dream a reality and I’m incredibly grateful for it. My experience there transformed me into a better archaeologist and allowed me to find my own voice as a researcher.”

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