© 2021 KGOU
KGOU_Header_Examples_v3
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
World

Art In Andean Religious Traditions And How It Evolved After Spanish Conquest

9184gcpUmZL.jpg
University of Arizona Press
/

Colonization of the Andes and the expansion of Catholicism changed the subjects of the region’s art, but many of the older traditions survived Spain’s settlement of South America.

Pre-Columbian art forms in the Andes often used vivid colors, precious metals, and fine textiles to represent the sacred.

“They manifested their deities in these materials in beautiful and understated ways,” says University of Florida art historian Maya Stanfield-Mazzi, who explores how these ancient art forms helped craft Andean Catholicism in her book, Object and Apparition: Envisioning the Christian Divine in the Colonial Andes.

With Spanish colonization, these artistic traditions were incorporated into the representations of the Catholic divine.

“They used those same artistic materials and mediums to shift over to these new deities and really present them as the replacement for, say, the Inca Sun God or the Moon Goddess,” Stanfield-Mazzi says.

The result was a mixing of both Spanish and Andean artistic practices during the Colonial period.

“Spain already had a strong tradition of creating very rich sculptures of the Virgin and Christ, and especially carved in wood,” Stanfield-Mazzi says.

This mixing of artistic traditions was key to Andean cultures adopting and creating new forms of Catholicism. These traditions have survived through today and continue to play a major role in Andean Catholicism.

“We know of sculptors really striving to learn how to make these [Spanish-style] sculptures and kind of making the new religion their own,” Stanfield-Mazzi says. “There’s still major devotion to these statues. People purchase and donate embroidered garments for them on a yearly basis, if not more often.”

This practice of dressing the statues in embroidered garments provides another example of fusing religious and artistic practices

“More recently, people have been deciding to dress certain statues of saints…in garments that are specifically coming out of the Andean weaving tradition,” Stanfield-Mazzi says. “So there is kind of a revival…of traditional weaving for the international market because people are just really valorizing their local culture. That’s spilling over into the dressing of these statues.”

---------------------------------------------

KGOU and World Views rely on voluntary contributions from readers and listeners to further its mission of public service with internationally focused reporting for Oklahoma and beyond. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.
 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On Pre-Columbian Art In The Andes

The Andean region has a long tradition of art making and has a long sequence of civilizations that were there from about 2,000 B.C. up to the Inca era, which ended at Spanish conquest. So you have a lot of different art forms, but there is a big focus on textiles, and since it's a dry region a lot of those textiles have survived and have been found archeologically. Inca art, which is what connects with my research the most, was very geometric and abstract, also with very rich colors – reds and yellows, predominately – and a lot of focus on stonework in addition to textiles. […] We know that really fine textiles and silver and gold objects were thought to kind of embody the sacred. So they manifested their deities in these materials in beautiful and understated ways. Those were ways that I think they presented the divine to the people. In Inca art, there are some abstract symbols, usually in the form of squares, like with an “x” shape or a checkerboard shape. And we think that some of those stood for different ethnic groups or different parts of the Inca Empire. So there was a kind of codification in those symbols. But Inca art is somewhat enigmatic to us still.

On The Dressing Of Religious Statues

The main way in which people choose to dress, to create a mantle for a statue of the Virgin Mary, is by commissioning embroiderers who work in little private shops in different cities. And they ask the embroiderer to create a garment. And that sort of embroidery with metallic threads – now they're not really gold, but they're goldish and silver in color – that comes out of the Spanish tradition, but really kind of became an Andean practice and became very important there. But also, more recently, people have been deciding to dress certain statues of saints – specifically of St. Christopher guide in Cuzco and an important statue in Cuzco called the Christ of the Earthquakes – in garments that are specifically coming out of the Andean weaving tradition, and really commissioned from expert weavers in the region.

On The Balance Between Tradition And Innovation In Weaving

Well I think there's a balance of two things. There's a balance of tradition. And you do have women especially, that have their sheep and camelids and then purchase that wool and spin the wool by hand, and dye it by and, and know how to weave it. So that tradition has never really been broken. And so they are able to still feel that that tradition is important for their life-ways and their ethnic identity, and so apply it to newer forms. But sometimes, there is a feeling of wanting to innovate at the same time. I've spoken and did some interviews with embroiderers this last summer in Cuzco, and asking them how much they knew about the old ways of embroidering and what they were doing different. And they really show a consciousness of what they did in the past, but also having a competitive spirit of wanting to do things that are slightly different, but being very good craftsmen. They're having a pride in that. So there is a balance between the two. And in terms of reviving really old styles – where weavers today, for example, create kind of replicas of colonial tapestries, or even Inca-style tapestries – that obeys a slightly different logic, I think, where people see an international interest in those ancient works that are museum pieces, and that they would like to purchase a handmade piece of their own, now. So these artisans respond to an international market that they can create those things for.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Maya Stanfield-Mazzi, welcome to World Views.

MAYA STANFIELD-MAZZI: Thank you for having me.

GRILLOT: Well Maya, you've done some very interesting work on pre-Columbian and colonial art in the Andes area, and particularly in Peru. Could you just start by painting a picture for us? I'm not really sure that in my mind I can picture what you're talking about here. Can you just tell us a little bit about what that art is and how we know it when we see it?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Sure. So the Andean region has a long tradition of art making and has a long sequence of civilizations that were there from about 2,000 B.C. up to the Inca era, which ended at Spanish conquest. So you have a lot of different art forms, but there is a big focus on textiles, and since it's a dry region a lot of those textiles have survived and have been found archeologically. Inca art, which is what connects with my research the most, was very geometric and abstract, also with very rich colors – reds and yellows, predominately – and a lot of focus on stonework in addition to textiles. And then I also work on colonial Spanish art of the same region, which interestingly is not abstract. It comes out of the Renaissance art tradition; it's connected to that. But it does have that some kind of focus on rich colors, especially reds and yellows. And also a lot of use of gold and silver, which were mined in the Andean region and were used by pre-Columbian civilizations for art, and were also used during the colonial period.

GRILLOT: So was there any kind of messaging that was being presented in some of this artwork? I mean, we tend to think of some of these more ancient art forms as those, that was their way to communicate with one another in some way, shape, or form. Have you been able to gather that that's the way in which they did that – through their textiles in particular, and using these rich colors and symbols and the geometric shapes – to communicate something to us? What have you been able to learn about that?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Right. Well, there are so many civilizations that it would be hard to make an overarching statement. But if we just talk about Inca art, it was abstract in that way. So there's not a lot of clear narratives or stories that we can read from their art. But we know that really fine textiles and silver and gold objects were thought to kind of embody the sacred. So they manifested their deities in these materials in beautiful and understated ways. Those were ways that I think they presented the divine to the people. In Inca art, there are some abstract symbols, usually in the form of squares, like with an “x” shape or a checkerboard shape. And we think that some of those stood for different ethnic groups or different parts of the Inca Empire. So there was a kind of codification in those symbols. But Inca art is somewhat enigmatic to us still.

GRILLOT: Well, when you say that it was a way to embody the sacred, that, I think, leads to something else you've worked on. And that is the ways in which these civilizations contributed to the creation of new forms of Catholicism. So you had the imperial powers that came and brought with them their religious views, which were very different, presumably, from those of the natives that were there. So how is it that they took the new beliefs – that were coming from the New World – and incorporated them into their existing beliefs, or that they took they took their existing beliefs and were able to transform these new beliefs? And how is it that, again, they're representing that through their art form?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Definitely there was a big shift that had to be made towards Catholicism and towards deities or saints of Catholicism, which were seen as having had human form and existing in heaven. But what I argue is that some of the aesthetic ways of kind of embodying the divine through gold and silver and color, those were transferred over in figuring the new divinities: the Virgin Mary and Christ Child and Christ himself. So they used those same artistic materials and mediums to shift over to these new deities, and really present them as the replacement for, say, the Inca Sun God or the Moon Goddess.

GRILLOT: So they used their traditional ways of presenting art to then represent the new religious beliefs that were being brought to them. And how did that persist over time and even through today? I mean, one would assume that we still see very colorful images using silver, gold, reds, others, all throughout Catholic and Christian religious iconic images. Is that really kind of where we saw the beginnings of that, was in the New World?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Not completely. So in the colonial period, in the 16th century after the Spanish conquest, Spain already had a strong tradition of creating very rich sculptures of the Virgin and Christ, and especially carved in wood, these massive sculptures that could be carried outdoors and dressed. And that tradition was transferred over into Peru. And the thing that I write about in my book and that I think was key, was that indigenous artists in Peru learned those artistic techniques and really were desirous of being able to make their own images, of Mary specifically. We know of sculptors really striving to learn how to make these sculptures and kind of making the new religion their own. And so in many ways you can see a lot of Spanish roots to the way this art looks, and it's part of Baroque Spanish art. These statues are very richly polychromed or colored, and then with these beautiful gold-embroidered garments – those things you can find in Spain, but they kind of have deeper resonance and meaning in the Andes, and certainly carry forward to today. I mean, there's still major devotion to these statues. People purchase and donate embroidered garments for them on a yearly basis, if not more often, carry them in procession. And that's still a really important part of lived culture, and Catholicism is still the predominant religion in the region.

GRILLOT: So when we talk about the textiles – and you were just referring to sculptures, and in the past stonework of other varieties – how is it that textiles are used today? What is the contribution they've made toward textiles use today? You were just referring to garments, for example. But particularly religious vestments and religious textiles, what is it in the Church, the Catholic Church of today, that you can see kind of the art of the past and how it reflects the way in which they practice today?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Right, right. Well, the main way in which people choose to dress, to create a mantle for a statue of the Virgin Mary, is by commissioning embroiderers who work in little private shops in different cities. And they ask the embroiderer to create a garment. And that sort of embroidery with metallic threads – now they're not really gold, but they're goldish and silver in color – that comes out of the Spanish tradition, but really kind of became an Andean practice and became very important there. But also, more recently, people have been deciding to dress certain statues of saints – specifically of St. Christopher guide in Cuzco and an important statue in Cuzco called the Christ of the Earthquakes – in garments that are specifically coming out of the Andean weaving tradition, and really commissioned from expert weavers in the region. So there is kind of a revival at the same time that there's a revival of traditional weaving for the international market because people are just really valorizing their local culture. That's spilling over into the dressing of these statues. And so you see some of them wearing these kind of woven coverings and mantles that you would immediately recognize as being: "oh that looks like Peruvian weaving” – the weaving that we know, that people who travel to Peru usually like to purchase and admire worldwide.

GRILLOT: What I think is so interesting is how you refer to kind of maintaining these techniques, or reviving these techniques. So, in terms of artists not just producing something where the outcome is similar to what was produced many, many years ago, but they actually go about reviving the ways in which these things were produced. I mean, I think this is an interesting tradition, perhaps in other parts of the world too, where an old art form might be discovered and then you would try to reengineer and revive the way in which you make Terracotta Warriors, for example, in China. I mean, that there's some kind of interest in not just producing the outcome again, but maintaining the way, or reviving the way in which it's actually produced. What is it about this particular art form that encourages those local communities to say, "I want to produce these things the ways in which our ancestors did them: the exact same way"? Is that really what you're talking about here? Is that what's happening? It's not just the actual vestment, or the actual art form itself, but the production of it in an historical and authentic way?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Well I think there's a balance of two things. There's a balance of tradition. And you do have women especially, that have their sheep and camelids and then purchase that wool and spin the wool by hand, and dye it by and, and know how to weave it. So that tradition has never really been broken. And so they are able to still feel that that tradition is important for their life-ways and their ethnic identity, and so apply it to newer forms. But sometimes, there is a feeling of wanting to innovate at the same time. I've spoken and did some interviews with embroiderers this last summer in Cuzco, and asking them how much they knew about the old ways of embroidering and what they were doing different. And they really show a consciousness of what they did in the past, but also having a competitive spirit of wanting to do things that are slightly different, but being very good craftsmen. They're having a pride in that. So there is a balance between the two. And in terms of reviving really old styles – where weavers today, for example, create kind of replicas of colonial tapestries, or even Inca-style tapestries – that obeys a slightly different logic, I think, where people see an international interest in those ancient works that are museum pieces, and that they would like to purchase a handmade piece of their own, now. So these artisans respond to an international market that they can create those things for. They wouldn’t so much create a copy of an Inca piece for their own use or to dress a statue. But there are other resources now, and other people interested in their weavings.

GRILLOT: So it's not just wanting to use them for their local traditions and local settings or local churches, but there are people around the world who would like to purchase and own these types of things? Just like any other art market. It's an art market like any other.

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Mmhmm.

GRILLOT: So for those of us that still have to go to Peru, that haven't been yet, what are the must-sees? You mentioned the Christ of the Earthquakes, but what are the things – and I believe that's in Cuzco, I think you mentioned – where should we go to see some of these beautiful works of art that you're mentioning?

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Well Cuzco is definitely the top stop on the list. It has some excellent museums and churches, such as the cathedral in Cuzco where you can see Christ of the Earthquakes, places that you can see these things. It is a bit difficult to see historical textiles on display because of the preservation aspects, that textiles shouldn't always be out and exposed to light. But if you are in the capital in Lima, the Museum of Archeology is the best place to see some ancient textiles.

GRILLOT: Well, I'm about to go buy my ticket [laughs]. Thank you so much for joining us today, Maya, to enlighten us about an interesting part of the world that many of us don't see. So thank you very much.

STANFIELD-MAZZI: Thank you for having me.

Copyright © 2015 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.  

More News

Readers and listeners power the public service journalism KGOU and NPR provide. Donate online.