Art, Nature, and Religion in the Central Andes

Art, Nature, and Religion in the Central Andes

Mary Strong
Copyright Date: 2012
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    Art, Nature, and Religion in the Central Andes
    Book Description:

    From prehistory to the present, the Indigenous peoples of the Andes have used a visual symbol system-that is, art-to express their sense of the sacred and its immanence in the natural world. Many visual motifs that originated prior to the Incas still appear in Andean art today, despite the onslaught of cultural disruption that native Andeans have endured over several centuries. Indeed, art has always been a unifying power through which Andeans maintain their spirituality, pride, and culture while resisting the oppression of the dominant society.

    In this book, Mary Strong takes a significantly new approach to Andean art that links prehistoric to contemporary forms through an ethnographic understanding of Indigenous Andean culture. In the first part of the book, she provides a broad historical survey of Andean art that explores how Andean religious concepts have been expressed in art and how artists have responded to cultural encounters and impositions, ranging from invasion and conquest to international labor migration and the internet. In the second part, Strong looks at eight contemporary art types-the scissors dance (danza de tijeras), home altars (retablos), carved gourds (mates), ceramics (ceramica), painted boards (tablas), weavings (textiles), tinware (hojalateria), and Huamanga stone carvings (piedra de Huamanga). She includes prehistoric and historic information about each art form, its religious meaning, the natural environment and sociopolitical processes that help to shape its expression, and how it is constructed or performed by today's artists, many of whom are quoted in the book.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73572-9
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    This volume is a broad look at the cultures of the Andes and their arts. Readers will find an introduction to the subject here that will encourage further exploration of these fascinating and beautiful traditions. Following is a general ethnohistory of symbolic meaning in a selection of Peruvian religious art motifs relating to the natural world. The geographic and cultural focus is the central Andean region of Peru, especially in Huamanga (also known as Ayacucho) and its environs. This book is different from others in several ways. First, it concentrates on “folk art” images, but it also traces how contemporary...

    • CHAPTER 1 Pre-Columbian Andeans
      (pp. 17-58)

      Pre-Columbian Andeans include all Indigenous peoples who lived in the region before the coming of the Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This chapter concentrates on some of the later cultures, notably those of peoples who built cities and established empires or had panregional influence over neighboring cultural groups in terms of art. The first part presents the general environmental context, next the peoples before the advent of the Inca civilization, and then the Incas themselves.

      Religious ideas expressed in art flow from a special relationship Andeans feel with their natural surroundings. For this reason, a general look at...

    • CHAPTER 2 Andean Thinking
      (pp. 59-94)

      This chapter presents some aspects of the way Andeans think by using their own art or approximations of the images in their minds with regard to nature and religion. For this reason, attention to the illustrations is just as important as the verbal text in this chapter.

      The Inca religious belief system and how it finds expression visually is still alive in the minds of Huamanguino artists today. Inca ideas, in turn, came from an amalgam of traditions previous to their reign and from the peoples they conquered. The first part of this chapter describes and explains as much as...

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 95-96)

      Variations on a theme in music or in visual art imply that continuity of thematic elements coexist with changes simultaneously through time and space. Listeners and viewers recognize references to the themes within the variations because the variations contain partial repetitions of the themes. This is a tried and true esthetically pleasing structure in artistic creation and perhaps in the development of cultures as well. The first very major variation in Andean traditions came about when Europeans founded colonies in the region from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. There were areas in which the two cultures blended easily because of...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Spanish Colonial Period
      (pp. 97-129)

      The Incas interpreted the coming of the Spaniards as a pachacuti, or inversion of the universe. Pachacutis, as described previously, occur cyclically in the Andean concept of time. The Incas reacted to the Spanish colonization with the idea that if they became more strictly exacting about religious observance, the world would once more put itself right and Inca culture could again reign supreme. Consequently, the colonial period entailed not only massive acculturative processes but also revolts and millenarian movements. Out of this crucible came new and multilayered versions of Mestizo (culturally mixed) art forms that contain subtle and highly nuanced...

    • CHAPTER 4 Globalization Today
      (pp. 130-162)

      The second great variation this book considers is that of the modern period from the mid-twentieth century to the first decade of the twenty-first century. This was a time of profound change among Andeans. Peru shifted from being a primarily rural to an urbanizing country. Most rural-to-urban migrants have Indigenous cultural background. Many Andeans also migrate to other countries in search of employment and have now established expatriate communities in a number of foreign lands. Technology, particularly in the area of telecommunications, changed Andeans’ perceptions of their world in a fundamental way. Globalization of trade, agriculture, industry—in short, every...

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 163-164)

      Part I and Part II of this volume provide prehistorical and historical background for Part III, about contemporary Andean arts with an emphasis on artists now living in or originally from the Huamanga region in the department of Ayacucho of the Central Andes of Peru. The ethnohistorical perspective taken by this study is typically expressed in the arts, since they communicate some ideas that are new (variations) but most often against a constantly replaying background of what came before (themes). Part III has seven chapters, each featuring a type of art or medium and emphasizing the religious meaning in a...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Scissors Dance (La Danza de las Tijeras)
      (pp. 165-194)

      The scissors dance (danza de las tijeras) is one of a number of ritual dance theaters performed in the Andes today in honor of local communities’ patron saints. Traditionally, elaborately costumed group dancing was the highest form of prayer to the divinities in Andean tradition. This custom combined with European carnival and auto da fé elements during colonial times. It may have arisen directly from the Taki Onqoy (“dance sickness” in Quechua), a millenarian movement that came about as a reaction against colonial religious repression of Indigenous belief and practice. Always a test of strength, a kind of physical trial...

    • CHAPTER 6 Home Altars (Retablos)
      (pp. 195-218)

      Retablos are small, portable altars that have the shape of a box with doors that can be tied in a closed position. Inside are one or more shelves replete with small figures of people and animals, some sacred and some profane, as well as painted background scenery. The box is a miniature of a large altarpiece and the two doors plus shelf or shelves that echo the church altar triptychs of the Spanish colonials. The idea of a portable altar was almost certainly a Spanish one, though Andean seers, prophets, and the holy persons carried and still carry portable items...

    • CHAPTER 7 Carved Gourds (Mates)
      (pp. 219-241)

      Dried and decorated gourds calledmatesappear everywhere in Peruvian craft markets. The wordmatecomes from the Quechuamati, meaning gourd.Mateis also a term referring to certain kinds of herbal tea that were traditionally prepared and drunk from gourds in some areas of Latin America. Mates have various sizes and shapes, from a round, long-necked pear to a golf ball. Some remain closed with dry seeds rattling inside, and others are hollow with removable lids. Artists carve and paint the skins of some of these fruits to resemble people or animals, and others have simple or ornate...

    • CHAPTER 8 Ceramics (Cerámica)
      (pp. 242-262)

      Ceramic arts are a complex tradition in the Andes. For this reason, the chapter concentrates on one type of object, a jar in the shape of an animal; this evolved over time and developed regional variations. Inca and pre-Inca civilizations are famous for the great quality and variety of ceramic ware that they created. All aspects of human life and the natural world found shape in ceramic form. This chapter focuses on a particular type of figure that may have been started as a stone libation vessel in Indigenous times and transformed into a ceramic house-guardian figure during the Spanish...

    • CHAPTER 9 Painted Boards (Tablas de Sarhua)
      (pp. 263-278)

      Painted boards, ortablas, were traditionally long planks divided by painted lines into rectangular sections containing typical designs and scenes. Each section featured painted portraits of the homeowners’ families and friends as well as images of religious symbols. The long plank shape was meant to fit on the ceiling of a family home under the main roof beam. The tradition of painting such boards and affixing them on the underside of house beams originated in Sarhua, a small town in the department of Ayacucho. Sarhuans install these works of art in their homes in recognition of their spiritual beliefs and...

    • CHAPTER 10 Weavings (Textiles)
      (pp. 279-304)

      Weavings, and to a slightly lesser degree ceramics, constitute the most highly prized of the Andean arts. Art historians and archeologists have produced an enormous and detailed literature that presents Andean textiles in their great beauty and variety. These fine works rank with the best in the world. The Spanish chronicler Cobo remarks (in Morris and Von Hagen 1993:198) on the brilliancy of the colored dyes and the impressive concentrations of finely spun threads per unit area (112 threads per square centimeter). Though the Incas and their predecessors had gold and silver in abundance, they prized fine textiles above the...

    • CHAPTER 11 Tinware (Hojalatería) and Huamanga Stone Carving (Piedra de Huamanga)
      (pp. 305-322)

      Hojalatería, or tinware, andpiedra de Huamanga, or alabaster carving, are two arts of Ayacucho that are in danger of disappearing despite their great beauty and venerable history in Andean arts traditions. These two contemporary arts represent the complex legacies of metalworking and stoneworking in the Andean past. This chapter includes the two genres in separate sections, first tinware and second Huamanga stonework.

      Tinworking artists of today face the disappearance of buyers for their utilitarian pieces due to factory-made metal and plastic items that now flood the market. As a response, artists focus on innovations aimed at promoting their decorative...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 323-329)

    This book is about how Andean people of the past and present create meaning in their lives and assert their self-worth using images and forms as communicative media. The specific natural forms, living beings, and processes taking place in their life-sustaining and sacred mountain environment provide the raw materials for art motifs. Similar images appear over broad geographic areas as well as multiple time periods. Andean thinking about time, space, and the place of human beings in the universe are thus expressed. Verbal language contains a glimmer of what art describes to Andeans. Visual metaphors used by Westerners as illustrations...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 330-342)
  10. Index
    (pp. 343-356)