A Visit to the SAM Peru Exhibit

On Friday, M and I finally made it into town to see the Peru exhibit at SAM, the day before it closed. I wanted to see it partly because I spent a summer in Peru when I was eleven, and can still remember lots of the things I saw then. I was not disappointed. There were a few items in the exhibit, borrowed from the Museo de Oro in Lima, that I remembered seeing on our visit there. (If you ever get a chance, go. The upstairs is a collection of arms and armor from around the world. The downstairs is a house-sized walk in vault full of amazing golden objects.)

I thought the exhibit was well laid out – separate rooms for several pre-Inca cultures, then Inca Empire objects, followed by a room full of artwork from the Catholic sledgehammer of the Spanish invasion.

One of the paintings in the colonial period room was a depiction, by a native artist, of a Corpus Christi procession, one of the colonial answers to the traditional feast of Inti-Raymi, the return of the sun, which marks the (Southern hemisphere) winter solstice. In the center of the painting are several important-looking personages in the garb of Inca nobility.

My parents and I visited Cuzco about a week after the main Inti-Raymi celebrations, but the day we arrived, there was a procession from an outlying town, bringing their statue of the Virgin Mary to be blessed at the Cathedral.  The statue, more than life sized, was dressed in jewel-encrusted red velvet over many years worth of handmade lace.  She was supported on two beams, carried by a dozen(?) men, barefoot, and dressed in traditional campesino pants and ponchos.

The parade also included dancers, horsemen, floats, and clowns made up to look like conquistadors. The people seemed to have embraced the religion, without having forgotten the way it was brought.

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M said he was disappointed that the exhibit didn’t have more history to it; that much of it was a display of ruling class burial practices.

That, and some architecture, is what has come down to us. The Incas, (also an empire full of disparate peoples), didn’t have a written language. The art of reading their knotted quipu ledgers has been lost. The Spanish did what they could to melt down and destroy the rest. If people hadn’t buried these amazing objects, they wouldn’t have survived. Insert your own comment about unexpected afterlives here.

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