Five centuries ago a handful of Europeans changed the course of Peruvian history through a violent confrontation. My work has often revolved around the consequences of such encounter and the strategies developed by the original inhabitants of the land to survive and maintain their cultural identity, particularly the ones used by their “art” makers. I have tried many times to imagine the traumatic experience they went through. How were they able to move from geometric and anthropomorphic representations in media such as clay and weaving to realistic representations of imported deities, using materials hitherto unknown? In fact I will never be able to imagine it. You cannot conjure the horror of an entire universe collapsing.

On arrival of the Spanish, 350 Wakas existed in the city of Cusco. Wakas were sacred entities representing cosmic, atmospheric and earthy elements like the sun, moon, stars, thunder, water, fire, potatoes and corn, among others. One of the first acts of the settlers was to erect shrines on each of their sanctuaries thus marking the initiation of religious imposition. Subsequently observing the rites of their religion, Spanish Catholic festivities became part of the syncretic culture of Cusco. Among these is Corpus which is held annually since 1572 when the Viceroy Francisco Toledo received the order of the king of Spain to “fight” the Wakas of Cusco.

Fifteen icons come out of their shrine from various districts of the city In Corpus, and converge on the cathedral, carried over the shoulders of their devotees. After spending the night together they go in  procession around the main square, following the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by musicians, dancers and a very loyal crowd. It is said that some of the saints and virgins of the festivity have meanings added to their religious personality. Their devotees have icons such as the virgin Mary closely related to the land, hail, fire; Santiago, the patron of the Spanish soldiers is also Illapa: thunder, lightening and bolt all together; Santa Barbara Maiden is related to the potato, is known as Aqsomama (Mother of the Potato).

The syncretism through which pre-columbian identities survived under the disguise of Western sculptures is in my opinion, evidence of the continuing struggle between two worlds whose hybridization has never reached completion. It is testimony to their grandeur and millenary power, but also testimony to their defeat. Ironically, it also testifies to the defeat of the conqueror, because despite hundreds of years of Catholic indoctrination they were not erased from the memory of the people.The project CORPUS plays with the idea that each of these Baroque sculptures have been transmuted into the pre-Hispanic identity that inhabits them, who are alive and well at  the end of hundreds of years of captivity.


CORPUS work in progress

* Photographs courtesy GICB