Despite decolonial efforts within the art world being in vogue, there is little analysis that is easily accessible from an Indigenous vantage point.[i] Although it has been argued that the key component of Latin American conceptualism is its ideological dimension (Ramirez, “Tactics”) I would like to expand the parameters of “Latin American conceptualism” to include Quechua and Aymaran ideologies as well. In this research paper I explore the work of several artists who have varying degrees of proximity to their roots in the Central Andes. The artists chosen for this exploration are the Peruvian theatre collective Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, Chilean artist and poet Cecilia Vicuña, and Peruvian-American textile artist Sarah Zapata. Unifying themes that are immediately evident include the body, textiles, and visual references to Andean culture. These artists have a close relationship to memory, trauma, and the land whether physical or imagined. Utilizing the Aymara concepts of ch’ixi and pachakuti outlined by Bolivian sociologist-historian-feminist-activist Silvia Rivera-Cusicanqui, I highlight the connections that transcend space-time and argue how embarking on this examination through the ideological lens of their Indigenous cultures can help scholars engage with perspectives so often lost in art history and which ultimately reveal dimensions that would be lost through the lens of a Western analysis alone.
Before examining each artist, I will expand on the conceptual framework mentioned above and relevant historical context. The two concepts I focus on for this analysis are ch’ixi and pachakuti. Ch’ixi is the Aymaran dialectic embodiment of two opposites existing in one simultaneously. This creates a contentious third space, that is made of the mutually contaminating first two elements yet is neither of them (Rivera-Cusicanqui, “Ch’ixinakax Utxiwa”, 105-106). This is much like how from a distance a black and white woven textile can appear grey despite not being made of grey threads. In the context of this paper, ch’ixi works as an alternative and equalizing perspective of the colonial “mestizaje.”[ii] This ideological distinction is essential for the political act of resistance and as a decolonial gesture that can signify agency and cultural germination through language (Rivera, 76-79). Embracing this dialectical nature allows for the acknowledgment of colonialism without clinging to the past for a sense of Indigineity. This Indigenous ideology freely traverses space-time and sustains agency to survive colonization of the imaginary or mind (Rivera-Cusicanqui “Ch’ixinakax utxiwa”, 106). This is a sense of being, no amount of cultural erasure can prevent. It lives in the individual, and collectively in the form of ch’ixi subjectivity; and can lead to a centralized confrontational space, or taypi, that can facilitate difficult discussions without the need to end in a harmonious resolution (Rivera-Cusicanqui, “The Potosi Principle”). I will examine the effects of the visual embodiments of ch’ixi that can be seen in the works of the selected artists.
The other Aymaran concept that is important to keep in mind when considering the selected work is pachakuti, a term referring to the subversion and transformation of world order within cyclical time. As Rivera-Cusicanqui describes,
The Indigenous world does not conceive of history as linear; the past-future is contained in the present. The regression or progression, the repetition or overcoming of the past is at play in each conjuncture and is dependent more on our acts than on our words. . . The contemporary experience commits us to the present—aka pacha—which in turn contains within it the seeds of the future that emerge from the depths of the past. The present is the setting for simultaneously modernizing and archaic impulses, strategies to preserve the status quo and others that signify revolt and renewal of the world: Pachakuti. (Rivera-Cusicanqui,” Ch’ixinakax utxiwa” 96)
Perhaps the most essential notion of pachakuti is the responsibility of the individual and society to wade through the knowledge and experience of the past and determine what is useful to bring into the future and what to discard. This is not an indiscriminate process, but one that reveres wisdom (Nourani Rinaldi). Pachakuti is evident in the consideration each artist has for social and environmental issues that will be unpacked here To have a better understanding of the circumstances and motivations of these artists, the last piece of contextual framework to consider is the historical one.
Like most of Latin America, the countries of the Central Andes are well acquainted with government corruption, violence, and civil conflict. In Peru, the inner conflict between Maoist opposition group The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso)[iii] and the Peruvian military dictatorship began in May of 1980. It lasted about 20 years, resulting in the death of approximately 70,000 civilians and displacement of thousands more.[iv] Despite the Shining Path advocating for Indigenous rights, racial equality, and the dissemination of social classes, most of the casualties of the conflict were of the poor Indigenous members of the population. The indiscrimination of the interpreted Maoist ideology implemented by Sendero of using violence and any means necessary to accomplish their goals (Navarro 154), and the military dictatorship enacting a “dirty war” against the Shining Path, resulted in a society steeped in fear (A’ness, 396). The military dictatorship used perceived collusion with the Shining Path as reason for imprisonment, torture, disappearance or death to individuals and their loved ones, and the Shining Path bombed cities and carried out violent acts resulting in the death of many innocent people. The inner conflict was not successful in addressing the inequalities of Peruvian society and the string of corrupt and unpredictable governments that came into power afterward did nothing to solidify the trust of Peruvian citizens (Stern 2). A reluctance to talk about the violent history of Peru’s inner conflict, resulting in trauma, and unresolved stigma around the perception and treatment of its Indigenous facet of identity is still pervasive.[v] It is important to keep this violent history and trauma in mind when analyzing the work of theatre group Yuyachkani as the formation of Yuyachkani runs parallel and in dialogue to the duration of the Shining Path. (A’ness, 399-400)
Similarly in Chile, where Cecilia Vicuña was born, one of the most brutally violent dictators came into power in 1973 when Vicuña was abroad (Vicuna, ceciliavicuna.com/biography). General Augusto Pinochet seized power after forming a coup with the help of the C.I.A. to oust Salvador Allende’s socialist-leaning government. When Pinochet came to power, he refused to allow a people’s government and instead institutionalized torture, repression, and censorship (Ramirez, “Blue Print Circuits”, 158). Realizing what life would mean if she returned to Chile, Vicuña decided to remain displaced from her home country (Diaz, 174). Pinochet’s authoritarian military dictatorship lasted 17 years. His regime showed how Chile, like their Central Andean neighbours, had greater interest in solidifying neoliberal connections with North America than the welfare of its own citizens. Some of Vicuña’s works stand in contention to capitalist extractivism, and mediates human and land displacement. Vicuña’s life and work can also give insight into how a sense of Indigenous diaspora can manifest in art and identity.
However, it is Sarah Zapata, the furthest displaced from the Central Andes, that inspires the exploration of how cultural connection can manifest across space-time without the first-hand experience of having lived there. Is pachakuti recognizable in this level of displacement? How does a relationship to Indigineity manifest itself in the work of an individual whose memory of the Central Andes is primarily imagined? Before diving into these questions situated in the imaginary, it is important to start with a sense of concrete experience to follow the complex patterns of this woven identity more easily.
Beginning the analysis with Peruvian theatre collective Yuyachkani, whose proximity to the Central Andes is the closest, themes of memory are immediately discernible, as “Yuyachkani” is a Quechua word meaning, “I am thinking, I am remembering” (Yuyachkani, yuyachkani.org/historia/). Comprised of 30 members, this collective began forming in 1971, around the time the Shining Path started enacting their violent rebellion. Racism toward Indigenous Peruvians was (and still is) pervasive,[vi] and like the Shining Path, Yuyachkani believed in fighting for equality. However, the theatre group chose to create a space of reflection through their performances rather than employ violent tactics. They achieved this by first referencing connections Peru has to its pre-colonial past that are still active. The use of costumes, props, song, dance, and festival elements served as a celebration of Andean culture (Yuyachkani,yuyachkani.org/historia/). Although many of these references are not obvious, utilizing the lens of ch’ixi enables an understanding of the layered dimensions. Masks for example, have been a longstanding vehicle for a physical embodiment of ch’ixi traditionally used in festivals and pilgrimages (Bell, 177-178). The belief is that by wearing the mask of another, whether it be another species, gender, race, or ethnicity, the individual puts themself into a state of ch’ixi where they are simultaneously the other, themselves and neither. By opting to experience festivities this way they transcend power dynamics because they contain the power of both identities (Wilson-Sanchez). This is similar to Oswald de Andrade’s concept of anthropophagia, which also originated in Latin America as a tool of resistance; but differs in its inability to discard what is not wanted. Acknowledgment of a contentious identity as a tool to address social issues can be seen in Yuyachkani’s reference of masks in their plays. (See Fig. 1 & 2).
Fig 1. Yuyachkani’s mask room
Fig 2. Yuyachkani. 2000. Santiago. Performance. Los Músicos Ambulantes . Performance. Multiple locations.
In his article “A Procession that Travels Inside: Santiago,” Miguel Rubio Zapata, director, and theater researcher of the Yuyachkani, outlines some of ch‘ixi’s double meanings in the play. One such example is the procession of Apostle Santiago himself. In this way multiple layers of memory become visible. The use of Santiago as a stand in for the Quechua god of lightning Illapa is a visual example of ch’ixi in practice (M. Zapata 310, 313). Santiago signifies the carrying of Andean beliefs of wa’kas and apus[vii] into the present through the procession of the body of Catholic Apostle James. Additionally, through Bernadina’s relationship to Illapa/Santiago, we see a more recent past being lamented through the hope she instills in him to bring back her twin babies who were killed during the inner conflict. She reasons, paying her respects to Santiago through his procession will surely be enough for Illapa to grant her wish (see Fig. 3). Yuyachkani’s plays create a space of reflection in which the audience can see their trauma represented. Prioritizing mental health through healing, cathartic storytelling is a form of memory that is future-minded and activist.
Fig 3. Yuyachkani. 2000. Santiago. Performance. Multiple locations, Lima.
Yuyachkani’s contributions to the healing of society were recognized in 2000 when the group won Peru’s National Human Rights Award.[viii] On their website they state,
"Yuyachkani has oriented its action around a main objective: to contribute to the development and strengthening of citizen memory. In this sense, the recurring themes revolve around marginality, violence, justice, corruption, authoritarianism, and other evils that threaten the development of a life with rights for all."
Their commitment to social justice is clear and their implementation of ch’ixi through signifiers such as masks and pilgrimage enacted by Peruvian characters, creates a strong resonance with Peruvian audiences. After watching several recordings of their performances available on YouTube, I decided to read the comment sections to gain insight into first-hand accounts of audience reception. A google translation of one such comment whose sentiments were often recurring is “(...)Today I saw them together with my daughters and they moved me to tears, the actors-musicians-singers are great, and the message of integration is the most beautiful. It is a world-class play and a pride of Peruvian theatre.” This comment was made by username: oxa01 for the video “Yuyachkani - Los Músicos ambulantes” and exemplifies a sentiment shared by many, the desire for family-viewing. This points to a larger desire for intergenerational conversation around these often-avoided topics. In this regard Yuyachkani’s work can be seen as a tool for both the development of Andean identity throughout pachakuti, and a means to heal.
A more abstract manifestation of pachakuti can be seen through the artistic exploration of Cecilia Vicuña’s work. Although there are many disciplines where Vicuña explores the relationship to her Indigeneity and the flow of pachakuti and taypi, (such as in the oral storytelling of poetry or symbolism in figurative painting) I would like to focus on the two facets of her oeuvre: los precario and quipus. The origins of her series Los Precario was the spark for the artistic direction of her practice still ongoing today. In the video “Cecilia Vicuña: Decolonizing myself” on video platform vimeo, she tells of the moment when she first felt her position in the cosmos. Walking on the beach at 17, she suddenly became aware of the vitality of the elements around her. The ocean was alive, as was the earth, the sun, the air. Gathering sticks from the beach and placing them on the shoreline, she wanted them to bear witness to the ephemeral relationship she initiated with the ocean, knowing the water would only allow them to stand for a limited time. This act opened an ongoing mediation she has with the world and encourages in others. Vicuña’s creation of memory with the land and found objects as witnesses, shows the pervasiveness of these themes to traverse pachakuti and transcend a diasporic displacement. How important is proximity when viewing your home as a place in the cosmos? Instead of focusing on her sense of displacement, Vicuña pivots into a protective mindset, that manifests in an environmental consciousness.[ix] Los Precario can demonstrate ecological advocacy through their future-mindedness born from a memory of the cosmos and reverence for the land.
Her relationship with the land is also explored through her quipu performances, which can be understood as physical, ephemeral enactments of memory-making in conjunction with the body. Where Los Precario originated from an intuitive mediation of personal understanding, Vicuña’s series of Quipus are rooted in research. After reading about the history of quipus in the Central Andes,[x] Vicuña was left to consider what bringing back the disappeared quipu could mean.[xi] In an act of pachakuti she brought them back into the present.[xii] Even the materiality of unspun wool as delicate, raw, and precarious underscores a sense of impermanence and movement through human interaction and alteration. Intuitively drawn to colours red and white, it was through conversation with scholar Paulina Bernoulli that Vicuña realized the Andean sacred significance of choosing these colours. In Quechua symbolism red is the colour of women and mothers as well as menstrual blood, and white was used in rituals to symbolize semen. In tandem, these colours signified birth and regeneration (Museum of Fine Arts, 39:33-40:21) (see Fig 4). Acknowledging this Quechua symbolism adds another dimension to Vicuña’s red and white quipus that can be seen in their sculptural/installation manifestations as well as ones that are more performance-based.
Fig 4. Cecilia Vicuña. 2006/2021. Quipu Menstrual (Shanghai). Site-specific installation with unspun wool & video.
Another way we can see the red symbolism of the quipu permeate space-time is during the group performances of the quipu forming in nature. If red is symbolic of regeneration and blood, a connection between the group, the earth and the disappeared is given life. The revivification of each person’s physical connection with earth can be seen as a collective way of remembering and practicing environmental activism while also remembering the bodies buried underneath the land. In one of these performances, Vicuña weaves the people into the quipu, so each person is a collective knot (see Fig 5).[xiii] Partaking in quipu formation as a group activity fosters a sense of community. The construction of a safe space could demonstrate a desire to grow communities which could then combat feelings of isolation from displacement. The conception of land becoming more abstracted and manifesting itself in imagined spaces appears to develop further the proximity to the Central Andes; and is particularly evident in Sarah Zapata’s work as well.
Fig 5. Cecilia Vicuña. 2020. Quipu de Lava. Live Sculpture/Performance. Mexico.
The final artist undergoing examination in this paper is Peruvian-American Sarah Zapata. As the youngest artist in this analysis, with the least amount of work created or published, source material explaining her practice was significantly more limited than the other two artists. What is known of her work can be found primarily in interviews and videos online. Most of her life has been spent in America, as she was born in Texas, and eventually moved to New York. Zapata’s connection to her Peruvian Indigeneity was first evoked by the introduction of textiles from her paternal grandmother. Inspired by the practice of sewing and crochet passed down from her grandmother, Zapata later learned to weave while studying fibre and textiles in college. As the curiosity surrounding the displaced aspect of her identity grew, so did the research into Andean culture.[xiv] To gain insight into her changing processes and overarching themes, it would be helpful to examine her installation A Famine of Hearing, 2019, in contrast with her most recent installation A Resilience of Things Not Seen 2022.
Zapata’s installation A Famine of Hearing opened in Performance Space in New York in 2019. The installation space was highly active as it facilitated performances, community meetings and a lesbian Halloween party.[xv] The “ruins”[xvi] of the installation were often used as seating with the overall regard of the piece leaning away from a sense of preciousness and toward a lived in and used space. By this time in her practice, she had already established the visual vocabulary of her free-standing ruins and began to mediate on the meaning behind a focused colour palette.[xvii] Zapata explains how the ugliest colour palette she could conceive of (the Christmas signifying red and green) grew into an inspiration for research. The origins of the cherry red were traced back to a specific Coca-Cola ad of the 1930’s that continued a conversation with medieval churches that used the same red and green to delineate power structures between the worshippers and the priest earlier on (see Fig 6). This revealed a cultural history where spirituality was “hijacked with capitalism.”[xviii] Other dialectical relationships surfaced in the forms of striped rugs with images of underlying faces[xix] (see Fig 7), as well as in the materiality and process of rug-making itself.[xx] If the resulting "in-between” feeling Zapata uses as a metaphor for larger societal constructs can also be considered a metaphor for ch’ixi, the ideas she explores could have further-reaching implications and understandings.
Fig 6. Sarah Zapata. 2019. A Famine of Hearing. Installation. Performance Space, New York.
Fig 7. Sarah Zapata. 2019. A Famine of Hearing (close up). Installation. Performance Space, New York.
Ending with a brief analysis of Zapata’s largest installation to date, A Resilience of Things Not Seen, currently on exhibition at the John Michael Kohler Art’s Center, shows the expanse of her imagined world growing. Referencing Lenore Tawney[xxi] through her use of hanging ruins as homage to Tawney’s clouds, Zapata is interested in an inbetweenness articulated in the mirroring of the ruins on the ground and ones on the ceiling[xxii] (see Fig 8). There persists a preoccupation with things not seen. Conceptually she wanted to work through her fear associated with the biblical text of Revelations which came to mind amid the fearful ethos of the pandemic. This is expressed through the colours mentioned in Revelations serving as the installation’s colour palette.[xxiii] However, using her installation to work through questions of cultural signifiers was not her only intention. Always present in her work is the investigation of the documentation of spirituality and human existence through textiles, and the textiles’ ability to articulate social concerns through humble, accessible means. In multiple interviews Zapata has cited the call of José Esteban Muñoz[xxiv] to imagine ways of creating a better future. It is important to Muñoz and Zapata as members of the queer community, to always push toward a better future. The abstracted fantasy worlds she constructs are important tools and access points toward this imagined future. They can serve as visual language for intermediation between dialectic facets of identity, safe spaces for marginalized communities, or simply as places to rest among the plasticity of textiles.
Fig 8. Sarah Zapata. 2021. A Resilience of Things Not Seen. Installation. John Michael Kohler Art’s Center, Wisconsin.
Through the visual and conceptual analysis of Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, Cecilia Vicuña, and Sarah Zapata, themes of memory, the body and textiles are clear. Additionally, through using the Aymaran concepts of ch’ixi and pachakuti the dimensions of each artist’s manifestation of the land, trauma and memory have been revealed to culminate in a sense of social consciousness and activism. Whether it is fighting for racial equality, environmental causes, or 2SLGBTQ+ rights, there is an intention in this art that transcends the needs of the individual. While the understanding of ch’ixi and pachakuti can affect people on a personal level, it is their link to cosmology that situates a dialogical focus with the collective. This transient positionality also enables a connection to Indigeneity regardless of physical proximity to the Central Andes. These ways of understanding and relating to the world exist in the mind. So, what is the significance of this investigation? I have demonstrated the use of these terms as political tools of resistance, sources of strength and effective means to broaden one’s perspective. If Western academia can understand and value these terms as rich modes of interpretation to bring to Indigenous art that cannot be understood adequately through a colonial lens alone, it would not only give insight into additional dimensions of life that have historically been subalternized;[xxv] but might also keep minds open to other ways of knowing and understanding that have been discounted from localities around the world. If an essential element of our work as artists and historians is to discover new ways of communicating, expressing, and understanding life, what reason is there beyond internalized superiority, to not include this as a method of perception?
Freshly graduated from OCADU, Sarina Antonacci is an artist and mother currently residing in Toronto Canada. Born in Peru, she was adopted by an Italian Canadian family as a baby, and for the first time is consciously exploring facets of her indigenous Peruvian identity. Crucial to her practice is experimentation with varied materials, methods, and ideas. Currently, her visual practice tends to skew toward painting with acrylics that blend abstract and figurative styles to create imagined spaces. Recently a shift in focus from trying to make sense of her own diasporic perception-to researching Andean ideology, has facilitated a peace through understanding not thought possible through Western ideology alone. Sources of inspiration will always include philosophy, science, literature, art, spirituality, music, love, and compassion.
- Adler, Phoebe, et al. “Interview: Performing in the Zones of Silence: A Conversation Between Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Gabriela Salgado.” Contemporary Art in Latin America, Black Dog Publishing, London, 2010.
- A'ness, Francine. “Resisting Amnesia: Yuyachkani, Performance, and the Postwar Reconstruction of Peru.” Theatre Journal vol. 56, no. 3, October 3, 2004, pp. 395–414.
- Bell, John. “Rediscovering Mask Performance in Peru: Gustavo Boada, Maskmaker with Yuyachkani.” TDR/The Drama Review, vol. 43, no. 3, 1999, pp. 169–181., https://doi.org/10.1162/105420499760347397.
- Díaz, Carolina. “Cecilia Vicuña’s Quipu-Making as a Theory of Time.” A Contracorriente: Revista de Historia Social y Literatura en América Latina, vol. 16, no. 1, Fall 2018, pp. 174-202.
- Gómez-Barris, Marcarena. The Extractive Zone: Cecilia Vicuña’s Social Ecologies a Decolonizing Vision Speaker Series Lecture by Macarena Gómez-Barris. The Extractive Zone: Cecilia Vicuña's Social Ecologies a Decolonizing Vision Speaker Series Lecture, https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/events/the-extractive-zone-cecilia-vicuna-s-social-ecologies-a-decolonizing-vision-speaker-series-lecture.html?filter_tag%5B0%5D=69.
- “INTERNATIONAL SPEAKER SERIES: CLOTH CULTURE | SARAH ZAPATA (USA/PERU).” YouTube, uploaded by Australian Tapestry Workshop, 7 March 2022, www.youtube.com/watch? v=ru5l9uArErY&t=2s.
- Kenfield, Yuliana H. "DECOLONIAL GESTURES OF ANDEAN BILINGUAL COLLEGE STUDENTS PROMOTING QUECHUA: COMMUNITY-BASED PARTICIPATORY RESEARCH WITH PHOTOVOICE," 2018. https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/educ_llss_etds/93
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- “LASS Silvia Cusicanqui.” YouTube, uploaded by LACAP, 27 May 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watchv=UHOz7g8U010&t=315s
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- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. “Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu.” YouTube, uploaded by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 18 April 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu4_Ne3iZuY.
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- “PALABRAS SEMILLAS. CECILIA VICUÑA Y MIGUEL A. LÓPEZ EN CONVERSACIÓN.” YouTube, uploaded by CA2M, 11 June 2021, www.youtube.com/watch? v=dSHgom3qEQY&list=PLsQWJ7gtF8BGfmffjPkjBT5_ElGcysv7I&index=9.
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- -169. https://monoskop.org/File:Ramirez_Mari_Carmen_1993_Blueprint_Circuits_Conceptual_Art_and_Politics_in_Latin_America.pdf
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- Rivera-Cusicanqui, Silvia. “Ch’ixinakax Utxiwa: A Reflection on the Practices and Discourses of Decolonization.” The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 111, no. 1, 2012, pp. 95–109, https://doi.org/10.1215/00382876-1472612.
- Rivera-Cusicanqui, Silvia. “The Potosí Principle: Another View of Totality.” The Potosí Principle: Another View of Totality, Universidad Mayor De San Andrés De La Paz, https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/emisferica-11-1-decolonial-gesture/11-1-essays/the-potosi-principle-another-view-of-totality.html.
- Rivera, Omar. 2020. “Resistant Epistemologies from the Andes (A Contribution to Latin American Philosophy).” Journal of World Philosophies, vol.5, no. 1, June 2020, pp.76-88. https://scholarworks.iu.edu/iupjournals/index.php/jwp/article/view/3602.
- “Sarah Zapata - a Resilience of Things Not Seen.” YouTube, uploaded by John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 16 April 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m-pOhXO-Bg.
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- Stern, Steve J. “INTRODUCTION Beyond Enigma: An Agenda for Interpreting Shining Path and Peru, 1980-1995.” Shining and Other Paths, Duke University Press, 2020, pp. 1–10, https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822398059-001.
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- “Terrestrial University: Pacha and Ch'ixi. Andean Cosmological Equilibrium.” Zentrum Für Kunst Und Medien, ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, https://zkm.de/en/event/2021/06/terrestrial-university-pacha-and-chixi-andean-cosmological-equilibrium#:~:text=%5B1%5D%20%C2%BBThe%20concept%20of,Cusicanqui%2C%20Ch'ixinakax%20utxiwa.
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- Vicuña, Cecilia. Cecilia Vicuña. http://www.ceciliavicuna.com/. Accessed 4 April 2022.
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- Vicuña, Cecilia. “Cecilia Vicuña with Catherine Morris at the Brooklyn Museum” Vimeo, uploaded by Cecilia Vicuña, 2018, https://vimeo.com/272641597 .
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- Wilson-Sanchez, Maya. “On Art of the Central Andes.” Latin American Contemporary Art week 9, 28
- March 2022, OCAD University, Toronto, ON. Guest lecture.
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- Zapata, Sarah. Sarah Zapata. https://www.sarah-zapata.com/. Accessed 4 April 2022.
[i] To clarify, I personally do not believe that decolonial or culturally expansive efforts should be treated as fashionable acts but would be remiss if I did not mention that exact way academia has treated them at times. This past year has marked the beginning of my research into Peruvian, then Indigenous Quechua art, and to describe the pool of information as “accessible with effort” would be an understatement. The most easily accessible information adjacent to this subject matter, in my experience, was found in larger texts about Latin American art/artists.
Without going too in-depth, the first time I saw this frustration of “fashionable decolonization” so eloquently expressed and questioned, was in the back of the book “Contemporary Art in Latin America” in an interview between Guillermo Gomez-Pena and Gabriela Salgado. Gomez-Pena expands on this idea with passion and personal experience, and it is certainly worth a read if this perspective strikes a chord.
[ii] See Silvia Rivera-Cusicanqui’s article Ch’ixinakax utxiwa for a more in-depth elaboration on how the use of ch’ixi as a reappropriation of bilingualism can be a decolonizing practice, pp. 105-106.
[iii] Led by philosophy professor Abimael Guzman, the circumstances around this communist group have had a bit of a skewed understanding. Racism and class inequality fueled the teachings of Guzman who was able to build up a following of mostly Indigenous peasants in the Ayacucho region who were frequently disregarded by the government and the rest of society. It is hard to know with certainty the varying perspectives of the conflict, as much of public record has been facilitated by the Truth and Reconciliation Committee with the help of the Peruvian government (who was the other hand of violence during these times). This was a complex period full of nuance and perspectives of history that have not been explored to the same degree as others. In order to sufficiently unpack its complexity, an entirely new paper would need to dedicate itself to this subject. For the sake of clarity, I would like to focus solely on the ethos of Peruvian society post-inner conflict in this paper.
More information about Sendero Luminoso can be found in the book Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980-1995 by Steve J. Stern. Much of this information came from the chapter: Beyond Enigma: An Agenda for Interpreting Shining Path and Peru, 1980-1995.
[iv] This is according to the: Truth and Reconciliation Committee, “Truth Commission: Peru 01 Truth Commissions Digital Collection,” United States Institute of Peace, July 13, 2001, https://www.usip.org/publications/2001/07/truth-commission-peru-01. Although this estimate is likely conservative, as it is hard to account for the number of those disappeared. Francine A’ness has estimated in her text Resisting Amnesia that the number is closer to 80,000 (p.396)
[v] Here I am reluctant to mention the unresolved stigma around the perception and treatment of Peru’s Indigenous members of society instead of its Indigenous facet of identity, because many Peruvians have Indigenous ancestry, even if they do not wish to identify as such. “Facet of identity” connotes a more universal sense as opposed to a minority one.
[vi] Racism towards Indigenous identifying Peruvians is so pervasive, it can be found quietly embedded in the coloniality of educational institutions where it may be assumed to be eradicated. One such study that demonstrates this in detail with the treatment of native Quechua speakers in universities can be seen in Kenfield’s study pp. 206.
[vii] wa’kas and apus are Quechua words meaning sacred places and mountain gods respectively (Cusicanqui, “The Potosi Principle.”
[ix] (https://hemisphericinstitute.org/en/events/the-extractive-zone-cecilia-vicuna-s-social-ecologies-a-decolonizing-vision-speaker-series-lecture.html?filter_tag=69 , 21:28-23:08; 32:28-33:52).
[x] Quipus are record-keeping devices made of intricately knotted yarn that served in lieu of the written word in ancient Andean societies. The effects of cultural erasure have rendered a decoding of their meaning imperceivable and mysterious within our Western recorded history (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu4_Ne3iZuY,11:04-11:58)
[xi] In her talk at the Museum of Fine Art Boston on YouTube Cecilia has this to say about the Disappeared Quipu:
This is the reason I call it the disappeared Quipu because you would think that a record keeping system that is probably as old as writing itself from the Middle East or as complex as the Phonetician alphabet that we use for writing our words even today has been really disregarded, forgotten, looked down upon, even in its place of origin meaning in South America, meaning the Andes, meaning Peru; and so, to do an exhibition of this order of this scale of this magnitude it really sends waves, waves of turning around the value system that assigns to these creations a completely different place in time and space.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu4_Ne3iZuY,16:34-17:30)
[xii] Also, in the YouTube video about her Disappeared Quipu, Vicuña recalls the moment she first philosophized on the meaning of the quipu. When she was very young in her journal she wrote “The quipu that remembers nothing.” and expands:
So, in that moment when I thought of the quipu I ... was turning around the colonization of the mind which is the worst kind of colonization because this kind of colonization is keeping South America as an enslaved place even now, in my opinion; and all this image of modernity is really based on brutal expectation and destruction of the land and cultures of the people. So, this teenage girl turns around the disappearance of the quipu even in that moment by bringing the quipu as an acknowledgement of knowledge, wisdom, and memory lost. So, in that act the quipu that remembers nothing I was sort of planting my devotion to search in my own dream world in my own poetic universe for the question of what this can possibly be. And I have been doing them for 50 years. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu4_Ne3iZuY, 18:57-20:22)
[xiv] “Zapata was inspired by arpilleras, narrative quilted tapestries created by communities of Peruvian and Chilean craftswomen as acts of political resistance and expressive agency.”
(Kwun https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/04/t-magazine/sarah-zapata-weaving-art.html )
[xv] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru5l9uArErY , 7:39-8:34)
[xvi] “Ruins” are what Zapata calls the geometric building-like fibrous structures within her installations. An example of one can been seen in Fig. 6 in what looks like a furry bench. She elaborates on the meaning behind the ruins in her talk with the Australian Tapestry workshop on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru5l9uArErY&t=4s, 6:07-7:32)
[xvii] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru5l9uArErY&t=4s , 9:13-9:39)
[xviii] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru5l9uArErY , 10:10-10:55)
[xix] In Zapata’s interview with the Australian Tapestry Workshop (11:22-12:29), she elaborates how in biblical texts striped clothes were considered untrustworthy because it was difficult to discern the foreground from the background; and following this, stripes were used to mark individuals on the fringes of society. Poor people, jesters, and prostitutes were made to wear stripes. From that lineage also emerged the jail stripe and American flag. Reflecting on this history, Zapata recognized how using stripes could be an easy indicator to exalt the outcasts of society while also talking about the strange histories that exist within cloth.
[xx] Since the beginning of her practice of rug-making Zapata has been cognizant of the multiplicity of meanings within weaving rugs. Their woven process honors the women of Peru and provides her with a sense of control, yet the placement of textiles on the ground was a byproduct of colonization; and the accessible American latch hook method she sometimes utilizes also connotes ubiquity and humility.
[xxi] Fiber artist who also formerly exhibited at the Kohler Art’s Center.
[xxii] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m-pOhXO-Bg , 0:39-1:37)
[xxiii] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m-pOhXO-Bg ,1:39-2:24)
[xxiv] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m-pOhXO-Bg , 2:26-3:03)
[xxv] Silvia Rivera-Cusicanqui "Ch’ixinakax Utxiwa” pp. 100-101; Nourani Rinaldi, (header) "Development and the Subalternization of Women, Nature, and Non-Western Knowledge.”