Issue - December 2007



December 2007
Editorial

In this month's issue Arnold Brauwer tells us about Ariel's Garden. Amy Stillman and Save the Children's new CD. Walter Sanchéz enlightens us with a history on Religious Popular Art andfinally Emanuele Norsa returns with an article on Elio Nina's work...read more...

December 2007

Religious Popular Art

Coming to communities near you: The release of a new CD produced by Save the Children is explored by Amy Stillman.

by: Walter Sánchez C.
Archeological Museum, San Simón

There is a type of Popular Art in Cochabamba, created by mestizos that was greatly accepted among the campesinos. This art is made from small wooden cases that imitate the kind of cases or alter-pieces of the churches, where the artists of the villages unfold the religious imagination. These cases are so small, they can be moved from one place to another.

The themes these cases carry inside vary. They can be images of anything from Saints, Virgins, “Señores” accompanied by miniature statues of animals (cows, bulls, sheep, etc.) that protect or favor their fertility and abundance, to the sole presence of painted stones with religious scenes or with symbols of nature associated with Christian symbolism. Some cases have doors that open to the side and imitate European art. The interior of these doors are painted with detail, flowers, stems or branches and trees. This portable representation comes from Colonial origin. A quick look at the formal elements of the paintings demonstrates not only the existence of religious symbols, but also symbols that represent the pre-Hispanic indigenous deities, or wak’a as they are known. How did this come about?

Polo de Ondegardo, Encomendero (*) of the beginning of the El Paso Colony, explains in his writings of his document Los errors y supersticiones de los indios, sacados del tratado y averiguación que hizo el Licenciado Polo (1571) (Collection of Books and Documents of Peruvian History, T. III), that before the Spanish conquest, the locals recognized two types of wak’a: the “mobile” and the “immobile”. The “mobile” were those that were ordinary, they were family deities that were carried from one place to another; whereas the “immobile” were the wak’a that remained “fixed” in one place and those “you could not take your eyes off of ”: the mountains, the Pachamama, the rivers and springs. Those mobile wak’a, also called cunupa, were, according to Arriaga, the Extirpator of idolatries, “ordinary and of stone, and usually without any particular shape; others have more diverse figures…others have the shape of animals”. Each cunupa has “its own name” and are used to help the fertility of the animals and crops.

With the arrival of the Spanish, this entire indigionous religious complex was persecuted through a process called the “Extirpation of Idolatries”. The images of local religious Gods were burned, their temples destroyed, their cunupas confiscated. At the same time, the Catholic Church began a process called the “Conquest of Indigenous Souls”, through which new temples were built and new Christian images or symbols were introduced, along with other religious paraphernalia (mass, festivities, processions and so forth).

This is when imagery begins to integrate religious elements of the conquistadors along with local religious elements creating this new religious complex. This phenomenon allowed the indigenous to integrate their ancient family deities into the colonial religion, disguised under Christian clothing. Through this, the Andean God Illapa, God of thunder, lightning and rain, became “Tata Santiago”.

The stone cunupa, protectors of livestock, are painted along with images of Saints and Virgins to continue following their own ancient beliefs. In other cases, only stones are placed, with natural figures that reproduce Christian symbols like the cross, the Virgin or Christ, turning them into guardians of their homes. Of the more popular imaginative mestize art, the more sophisticated alter-pieces, such as the famous San Marcos, possess various characters such as the “accountant” represented by holding a pen and a notebook “to count his livestock”, the milk maid carrying cheese, all surrounded by a great number of cows and sheep.

The artists of this Popular Mestize Religious Art that maintained during the colony and the republic times have now disappeared. The only proof of their presence is kept by the campesinos, in their homes, these small shadow boxes with images of their Saints, Virgins or Señores. During certain festivities, these cases are carried and taken to the Church to Mass, and they continue to follow the ancient work of protecting, sacrificing and safekeeping of the people’s crops, livestock and homes. *During the Colonial Spanish rule, Spaniard who had indians under his charge.

Mano a mano Bolivia
Mano a Mano Bolivia is an organization that aims to alleviate and promote health, education and social development in the impoverished areas by building schools, health centres, roads, runways and distributing medical supplies. At present this organization has built 79 health centres, 30 educative infrastructures (schools buildings, bathrooms and teacher housing) and several roads and air strips...
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