Zea Mays / Corn as Civilization, Commodity, Consumerism and Control

Alberto de Salvatierra (MDes '17)

Maize (zea mays)—commonly known as corn—often evokes nostalgic visions of pastoral landscapes. It is a de facto symbol for farms and harvests, and it is widely appreciated as a quintessentially American staple. However, corn’s historical genealogy is much more insidious and furtively subversive than most people recognize. While corn might have had its genesis as a versatile crop, the last few centuries reveal a more influential agent. It was a powerful civilization maker—both contributing to Maya and Aztec ascendancy in Mesoamerica and the English colonies in America. It was a commodity that facilitated the slave trade and the engine behind modern consumerism. And today, corn is the primary vehicle by which a vast agrochemical-industrial complex dominates American life. Therefore, this project seeks to reframe corn and highlight its true role in contemporary society.