On view in the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, and the International Gallery, Carole Weinstein International Center, September 16 through December 9, 2011, is the exhibition Achachis y Bordados: Storytelling Embroideries from Chijnaya, Peru. The exhibition features a selection of traditional embroideries, called “achachis” made by the artisans of Chijnaya, Peru, that tell stories of their culture and daily life. The large narrative panoramic tapestries, embroidered in bright colored wool on hand-woven wool cloth, depict village life with the figures placed in three “pachas,” or spheres of the universe. The lyric landscapes show the realm of the gods, the wild, and the human world woven into each tapestry. The smaller tapestries highlight different activities and festivities, from everyday scenes to festival dancing. Included in the exhibition are photographs by American photographers J. Scott Dugan and Judith Cooper Haden from her series “Chijnaya: An Artisan Village in the Peruvian Altiplano.”
The village of Chijnaya is located on the Altiplano of Southern Peru. Originally from villages on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the Chijnayan people experienced a devastating flood that destroyed their homes and land in the 1960s. The villagers relocated to land at a higher elevation (13,000 feet) with the assistance of the Peace Corps, particularly American volunteer Ralph Bolton. He lived in Chijnaya for two years before returning to the United States to complete his studies. Dr. Bolton has been Professor of Anthropology at Pomona College in Claremont, California, since 1971, and in 2010 received the prestigious Franz Boas Award for Exemplary Service to Anthropology. In 2005, he founded The Chijnaya Foundation, a non-profit organization that works with the village of Chijnaya and other communities on the Altiplano of Southern Peru. The Foundation provides assistance by working with the village on various sustainable business ventures, micro-loan projects, health campaigns, and teaching English.
Folk art embroidery is an important part of household and community economies in highland Peru. Villagers still spin, dye, and weave wool fiber from their sheep and alpacas. The Chijnaya Foundation has supported the efforts of an artisans’ association in the village to revive traditional embroidery styles that had been abandoned in the 1980s owing to the political situation in Peru.
Their efforts paid off in 2007 with the production of a first run of panoramic embroidery tapestries depicting village life produced by an association of 110 artisans. By 2008, the artisans’ committee applied and were accepted to show their tapestries in the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Folk Art Market is a selective fair that attracts collectors worldwide and features the work of artists from over 100 countries. The participation in this venue has generated a successful revenue stream for the village, and it has also introduced their work to the international craft market and its collectors.
Highlights of the exhibition include an embroidery by Candelaria Quispe Incahuanaco which portrays life in the rural Andes. Depicted are different ecological zones beginning at the top with the mountains populated by wild fox and deer. Above them a condor soars between the peaks of the mountains crowned by rain clouds. Lower on the mountains, a man is guiding his donkey who is weighed down by a sack of potatoes while a woman in the center of the tapestry is weaving an intricate pattern on a cloth. Nearby a woman is spinning yarn while another is leading her llamas to town with a load of potatoes. Colorful images of a chapel made of adobe with a red tile roof, festive dancers, farmers at work, and fishermen surrounded by whimsical fish and pink flamingos fill the tapestry and chronicle village life.
Another embroidery depicting a village scene is by Ignacio Barrantes Zapana. Ignacio is a man in his sixties who has been embroidering achachis since he was a youth. He was a teenager when Chijnaya was founded and he spent a year living on a farm in upstate New York in order to learn new farming techniques and the use of agricultural equipment. Ignacio’s art is often playful and imaginative. In this piece he shows a man falling off his horse while animals are grazing in the mountains, men and women are working together in the fields and tending to livestock. Also depicted is a homestead scene where a man is shown spinning yarn while a woman works on a ground loom. Their compound consists of one adobe hut and two other conical shaped buildings that used to be common in the District of Taraco when Ignacio was a boy. The buildings are called putukus, and they were constructed with sod clumps instead of adobe.
Photographs by J. Scott Dugan and Judith Cooper Haden are also on view. These photographs offer a glimpse into the life of the Chijnayan people. J. Scott Dugan visited Chijnaya in the summer of 2011 on assignment as the photographer for The Chijnaya Foundation to document life in the village and the work being done by the Foundation. In Dugan’s photographs, he captures images of the villagers, musicians, and dancers with brightly colored woven clothing and hats in the midst of a festival. Group shots of families framed by the majestic terrain of the mountains and blue skies illustrate a sense of place and culture.
Judith Cooper Haden has been a board member of The Chijnaya Foundation and an advisor for artisan products and marketing for the village of Chijnaya. She was the photographer at the International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 2005-2009. She has won many awards including the “Lente de Plata” photographic award, Acapulco, Mexico, which is Mexico’s highest photographic travel award, presented by then two sitting Mexican Presidents in 1999 and 2003. Haden’s photographs depict the artisans conducting meetings and embroidering the achachis. Other images capture women tending to cattle and sheep and offer views of the mountains that surround the village of Chijnaya.
Organized by the University of Richmond Museums in collaboration with The Chijnaya Foundation, the exhibition was curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums, and Ralph Bolton, President of The Chijnaya Foundation and Professor of Anthropology, Pomona College, Claremont, California.
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