Over the course of millennia, textiles were the primary form of aesthetic expression and communication for the diverse cultures that developed throughout the desert coasts and mountain highlands of the Andean region. Worn as garments, suspended on walls of temples and homes, and used in ritual settings, textiles functioned in multiple contexts, yet, within each culture, the techniques, motifs, and messages remained consistent.
The detail illustrated here is one of over 50 brightly colored figures neatly embroidered in orderly rows that decorate a dark indigo blue mantle, or cloak. Each figure holds a small feline whose striped legs identify it as the pampas cat, a powerful predator and protector of agricultural fields. The individual appears to channel otherworldly power, as streamers emerge from his mouth and down his back, suggesting that the figure embodies the supernatural forces believed to govern the natural world. Made by the Paracas, a southern coastal community that flourished in Peru from about 500 BC to AD 200, this type of figure appears throughout the Andes and across artistic media. For example, among the Nazca, a community that emerged following the decline of the Paracas, woven textiles and painted vessels depict similar imagery—individuals dressed in ornate costumes and wearing whiskered masks—that suggests otherworldly transformation and connection between the natural and supernatural.
This exhibition features over 60 textiles along with a small selection of ceramics from the museum’s collection that together explore the ways select Andean cultures developed distinct textile technologies and approaches to design. While emphasizing the unique aspects of each culture and highlighting Andean artistic diversity, the exhibition also invites comparisons across cultures and time periods. These objects speak to shared ideas concerning everyday life, the natural world, the supernatural realm, and the afterlife, demonstrating a unified visual language that spans the Andes region from its ancient past to modern communities.
Image: Mantle (detail), Paracas. South Coast; Peru, 100 BC.