By Maya Jaggi
A painting from Peru on loan to the Prado Museum here captures an extraordinary moment in Spain’s colonization of the Americas. The anonymous 18th-century canvas portrays the wedding of an Inca princess and a conquistador, witnessed by Inca royals in gold regalia, and black-cloaked Spanish clerics.
Behind the apparent harmony lies a tale of defeat and devastation. Yet the union the painting depicts also signals the birth of a mixed culture, whose art is only now receiving its due.
“This is the first time we’re showing a painting from colonial America,” Miguel Falomir, the Prado’s director, said in a telephone interview. The Prado owns “between 15 and 20” paintings made in Spain’s former colonies, he said, but they are kept by the ethnographic Museum of the Americas. They have never been shown alongside European old masters.
For centuries, “we’ve considered this art as second-class,” Mr. Falomir said. “That, thank God, has changed.”
“The Marriages of Martín de Loyola to Beatriz Ñusta and Juan de Borja to Lorenza Ñusta de Loyola,” an oil painting of the Cusco school of art, was made during the Viceroyalty of Peru. Starting in 1542, the viceroys ruled large stretches of South America in the name of the Spanish king for almost three centuries, until Peru declared independence in 1821.
It was a time of feudal exploitation and forced religious conversion, but also of cultural flourishing. Local artists learned to paint in styles popular in Europe, introducing Peruvian landscapes, maize, guinea pigs and parrots into biblical scenes, and blending Renaissance, baroque and Incan symbols.
The main wedding, in the foreground of the painting, is between the niece of the last Inca rebel, Tupac Amaru, and the Spanish captain who defeated him. Their marriage in 1572 followed her uncle’s execution in Cusco, the Spanish-occupied Inca capital. The second wedding, tucked in a corner, shows the couple’s daughter marrying in Spain almost 40 years later, suggesting a distortion of time and space.
The painting, which combines European and Amerindian perspectives, is on loan to the Prado from the Pedro de Osma Museum in Lima, Peru, through April 28. Its display in Spain’s national museum during the institution’s 200th anniversary year suggests an important shift in the way Latin American colonial art is seen in Spain.
And it has coincided with a call by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico for an apology from the King of Spain and the Pope, for atrocities against indigenous peoples during the Spanish conquest of Latin America. The headline-grabbing move, rejected by the Spanish government, shows that imperial history remains bitterly divisive, on both sides of the Atlantic.
But art could help re-examine the conquest’s 500-year legacy with newfound respect, instead of rancor or political posturing.
Pedro Pablo Alayza, the director of the Pedro de Osma Museum in Lima, said by phone that “art is of course a way to understand what happened in the colonial period.”
“Colonial history is traumatic", he said. “But we can’t go ahead into the future if we don’t think again about our past".
The Prado is one of 12 major museums and galleries in Spain that opened shows of Peruvian art in February, in parallel with ARCOmadrid, the annual art fair, where Peru was guest country. These exhibitions provide what Fietta Jarque, their coordinator, called a “crash course in Peruvian art".
Spanish audiences will rediscover a chapter that is missing from their own history, she added.
“In Spanish schools they barely learn about three centuries of common culture,” said Ms. Jarque, a Peruvian critic and curator who lives in Spain. She said a “sense of guilt for the conquest” was partly to blame.
The traces and techniques of pre-Columbian art were not wiped out by Spanish rule and remain “raw material” for Peruvian artists, according to Sharon Lerner, the contemporary art curator at the Lima Museum of Art.
For instance, the gigantic pre-Incan land drawings and ceramic designs explored in “Nasca", an exhibit at the Telefónica Foundation through May 19, helped inspire the modernist artists on show through May 27 in “The Avant-Garde Networks of Amauta,” at the Reina Sofia museum.
That exhibition shows how the Latin American artists and intellectuals of Amauta, a short-lived but influential journal founded in Peru in the 1920s, opened up to Amerindian culture.
But Sandra Gamarra, an artist from Peru, said in a telephone interview that people’s minds were still shaped by past thinking.
“The colonial system is still alive in Peru", she said. “The idea of race, of different levels of humanity, is in our culture. We learn to see through categories, and through art".
Ms. Gamarra’s sepia-like family portraits, which were on show at the ARCOmadrid art fair, are painted in iron oxide and modeled on colonial-era paintings depicting the offspring of interracial unions. In those so-called caste paintings, people were classified: criollo (American-born to European parents), mestizo (Spanish and Amerindian), mulato (Spanish and African), and so on, showing Spanish colonial society as acutely race-conscious, yet rife with miscegenation.
A legacy of stratification lives on in Peru. Mr. Alayza, of the Pedro de Osma Museum, said that “diversity is both a source of the country’s richness and its problems with racism.”
But, he added, “to understand each other is the main goal.”
Partly to this end, the Peruvian Culture Ministry has tentatively begun supporting contemporary art. The Madrid shows are driven by independent curators, but the government of Peru is supporting the exhibitions as part of a cultural program in the lead-up to the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence, in 2021.
Shows like “Amazonías,” an exhibition at Matadero Madrid through May 5, which places video installations next to hallucinogenic paintings evoking the spirit world, reflect how attitudes in Peru are changing.
Felix Lossio, an official with the Peruvian Culture Ministry, said that only a few years ago, “Amazonian artists whose mother tongue is not Spanish sharing space with urban artists from Lima would have been unthinkable.”
“We wouldn’t have recognized this as contemporary art, but exotic craft,” he said.
Like the painting of the Inca princess and the conquistador, which the Prado now appreciates for its artistic value, the complex aesthetics of Peru’s indigenous art are gaining admirers. Despite the cataclysm of conquest, that world, and its art, never entirely vanished.
Source: The New York Times