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Exhibition – Gold and the Incas; Lost worlds of Peru

Ceremonial knife (tumi) in the Gold and the Incas exhibition

Ceremonial knife (tumi) in the Gold and the Incas exhibition

I had the pleasure this week of viewing my 3rd exhibition this year of amazing artifacts, predominantly gold, this time from Peru; the other two were from Afghanistan and Colombia. What a visual feast I have enjoyed! It has made me wonder that artisans were working with gold in both Afghanistan and South America at roughly the same time creating intricate and precious pieces that would be difficult to rival even now. The artifacts from Peru feature the distinct symbols of that region, snakes representing the underworld where the dead dwell, cats representing the land we walk on, and birds representing the sky where the gods live. Interestingly, even though I spent an entire month travelling in Peru in 2003 I saw very little of the kinds of treasures that have now travelled to Australia for this exhibition. The Spanish conquistadors did their best to loot Peru of its riches but a wealth of remarkable art remains, mostly excavated from tombs and sites ranging in age from the Chavin (1500-200 BC) to the Inca (1400-1533 AD).

This bead depicting an owl was my favourite piece in the exhibition of artifacts from Peru

This bead depicting an owl was my favourite piece in the exhibition of artifacts from Peru

I actually think that the organisers chose a misleading name because no Incan gold is present in the exhibition because so little remains in Peru after the Spanish invasion and occupation. The exhibition is very well curated and laid out chronologically and by region and cultural group. It is suitable for children and my daughter was given an activity book with a magnifying glass to follow the exhibition and there is a fabulous family room filled with activities and we easily spent 45 minutes in there. The exhibition contains pieces of exquisite stone carving, weaving, metalworking and ceramics from many different regions of Peru, including:

  • the early northern religious cult of Chavin which spread over much of north and central Peru and continued for more than 1500 years. The Chavin pieces depict transformational figures of animals (strong and powerful hunters e.g. snakes, jaguars, caiman and harpy eagles) and gods, and personal adornment especially carved and inlaid shell and semi-precious stones;
  • Paracas Peninsula is famous for its wildlife (and that’s why I went there) but apparently in the 1920s excavations discovered brilliant and intricate textiles buried in cavers hollowed out in the cliffs and large mummy bundles covered with hundreds of layers of embroidered textiles. These were very well preserved due to the dryness of the Atacama desert. Several stunning examples of textiles are included in the exhibition and I felt the exquisite urge to possess them 🙂
  • The Nazca culture a little to the south of the Paracas, produced colourful ceramics and textiles with bold lines and the exhibition includes a few exquisitely beautiful textiles made from brightly coloured feathers but they are most famous for the UNESCO listed Nazca Lines;
  • Poncho made from feathers by Nazca people

    Poncho made from feathers by Nazca people

    The Moche people dominated the northern coast of Peru for more than 600 years by conquering neighbouring cultures and taking captives for ceremonial beheadings and there are several depictions of beheadings on stirrup vessels in the exhibition. I was very glad that my 6 year old daughter did not linger long enough in front of these amazing decorated and sculptural ceramics to figure out what was depicted or why! The Moche also depicted sexually explicit scenes on their ceramics and it amused me to read that one interpretation of the purpose of the phallic jugs was to amuse people because when filled with liquid and poured it suggests ejaculation;

  • The Sican people were remarkable metallurgists and the empire flourished for more than 600 years. They worked with copper, gold and silver and created alloys which astonishingly allowed them to create sheets as thin as 100 micrometres! Sican smiths used embossing, die stamping, and soldering and created such exquisite pieces that they were kidnapped by the Chimu who conquered the Sican in about 1375;
  • Unlike the earlier Peruan groups, the Chimu smiths favoured silver more that gold and their artisans made extraordinary wooden, feather and metal pieces as well as lovely textiles with interwoven, complicated motifs, stepped arrangements (symbolising the three realms) and depicted jaguars, birds and marine animals; and
  • The Chancay created vivid black and white vessels with humanoid beings with arms outstretched. Their weavers created complex open-work pieces and a few of these are included in the exhibition, including one depicting fish.

One comment on “Exhibition – Gold and the Incas; Lost worlds of Peru

  1. Pingback: New lizard species discovery in Peru | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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This entry was posted on December 21, 2013 by in Australia and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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