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History behind the piece

Pre-Hispanic masks have been found not only in archaeological excavations, but also in representations embodied in ceramics and textiles from cultures such as Mochica, Chimú and Paracas. In the cave paintings of Sumbay in Arequipa, the oldest references on the use of them in Peru have been collected, and it is known that the vicuña hunters of the pre-ceramic period, around 2000 B.C., would have carried out this activity masked to discreetly approach its prey. It becomes clear then, that the mask is part of the cultural heritage of man and that he has not been detached from it for thousands of years.

In the Andes, its manifestation does not constitute an exotic, picturesque, much less archaic practice; on the contrary, it reflects a sensible way of contextualizing historical and social references, in order to later integrate them into the current reality of the population. That is why its importance resides mainly in its capacity not only to build, but also to affirm the cultural identity of a community. In more recent decades, studies on masks have also begun to emphasize the more dynamic aspect of this traditional expression, highlighting its relevance as a mediator for specific groups to express themselves and find a space for dialogue and participation within larger contexts.

Regarding the uses of the mask, the most representative would undoubtedly be the one linked to a ritual: dance. In Paucartambo, Cusco, the place where this piece originates, between July 15 and 19 of each year a mixture of traditions, dances and troupes are celebrated which constitute the ritual, mythical and social context in which hundreds of masked people interact during the 5 days in which the worship of the Virgen del Carmen takes place, one of the most important and notable folkloric events in Peru.

Although the Virgen del Carmen is a figure of Spanish origin, when the indigenous population, who constituted the majority, initially introduced dances and indigenous customs to the feast of the saint of the town, such a shift was generated, which ended with seize the worship itself. The extravagant costumes and masks together with the music, the complexity of the choreographies, the organization and discipline of the dancers and their troupes, can be considered as the causes and the means through which the history and identity of Paucartambo are explained and build. This mask, in particular, is a piece that preserves the traditional characteristics of shape, color, decoration and size typical of the masks attributed to the Qhapaq Negros troupe, an example that is also considered an expression of ethnographic art1.

The violence during the war for the conquest of the New World, the forced labor in the mines, the diseases that came with the Hispanic invasion and the fierce oppression to which the native peoples were subjected during the Viceroyalty of Peru resulted in a violent decline in the native population. Decades after the conquest, the censuses provided a horrendous view of genocide. For the conquerors this translated into a lack of manpower to continue enriching the Crown. They founded necessary to bring slaves from African to America, which were initially located on the coast of Peruvian territory to later reach the Paucartambo region. Thus, this character recalls the old African slaves in colonial times, and part of the Republic, whose lives in the gold and silver mines were very harsh, and whose sorrows were offered at the feet of the Virgin.

It is known that the Andean people used dance as a way of maintaining memory and transmitting history from generation to generation, which is probably why the multiple dances that represent Africans and slavery have their origin not only in observation of subordinate populations in the face of this horrendous passage in history, but also in their will not to forget it. In the songs that the Qhapaq Negros troupe interprets during the days of the celebration, reference is made to two main themes: the suffering as slaves and devotion to the Virgen del Carmen.

Regarding the making of masks, it is linked to the art of imagery and in Paucartambo there are numerous workshops of artisans dedicated to making masks in different techniques and materials. For the creation of this piece, the fiberglass modeling technique was used, a method that is achieved by making an original clay mask that will serve as a mold and on which the fibers will rest in layers to form the replica. Then, after the modeling process is finished, the mask is given the background color and later, the details of the face will be painted on top and some additional decorative element will be added, if necessary.

This specific mask, along with nearly twenty other specimens, plays within the set of elements that make up the festival of the Virgen del Carmen, the most outstanding and representative aspect of it. Without them, the party is just a revelry. With the masks the festival enters a path beyond reality, with old presences that give the festival its unforgettable transcendent character.

Origin: Paucartambo, Cusco
Measurements: 23 cm x 17 cm x 16,5 cm
Condition: Excellent
SKU: 0403-45

$ 248.00

1Ethnographic Art is considered to be that production made by the member of an ethnic group, made exclusively for personal or communal use, and that necessarily carries a cultural load of the people to which it belongs.