July 20, 2013
The trunks of the largest ancient trees in the Parque Bolivar branch out near the base like broccoli stalks. The park slopes up to the Supreme Court building and includes a miniature Arc de triomphe and Eiffel Tower; next to it is a grand playground with a huge dinosaur slide. A twelve-year-old boy named José Luis gives Karen a shoeshine and comments on how white (“blanquito”) Jacky is.
The new Museum of Indigenous Art near La Recoleta is built into the hill; the highlight of its nine rooms is the one devoted to the Jalq’a, whose Bosch-like weavings are the darkest art I’ve ever encountered. All in black and red, these “pallays” depict a disordered world of demons and outlandish animals jumbled together in geometric fashion, figures in black often appearing out of the blank spaces formed by the figures in red. Many of the weavings are also on sale at Inca Pallay, a store near our house run by an indigenous artist cooperative, and for less than elsewhere. I’m sure I’ll buy some before I leave, though they’re not cheap—one can spend hours wandering through the underworld they depict. Strikingly, the art in the museum is almost all new: the indigenous people used to base their abstract art on geometric patterns; only in the last fifty years has it become representative, and now the geometry is often altogether absent. I assume this change is partly due to the market influence of the Western taste for strange and rich imagery, along with the increasingly decorative rather than functional use of the textiles. The amazing imagination of the Jalq'a—and other indigenous groups—seems to have been liberated by the opportunity to profit from it.