Monday, 22 December 2014

Yaro Willka and Wari Willka

Hernan studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Lima with another young artist Pedro Rojas Ponce. They both hailed from the Mantaro Valley in  the central Andean highlands and were to become lifelong friends. It was Rojas Ponce who first introduced Hernan to Tello, and the two of them worked together on his team for many years. Pedro was also witness at Hernan's wedding. I love this photo of them, taken in 1936. Hernan wrote on it: the road to glory rises before us, we will strive to realize our ideals; humanity needs our art.  

photo taken from La Ilustración Arqueológica de Pedro Rojas Ponce - Dorothee Rivka Rago
Both Hernan and Pedro studied under the famous Peruvian artist Jose Sabogal, a leading light in the country's Indigenismo movement whose influence can be seen clearly in Hernan's paintings.  Later, in the 1940's, when Hernan founded the Grupo Waman Poma, Pedro joined him. Named after and inspired by Felipe Waman Poma Ayala, this small group of enthusiastic painters and sculptors sought to make their art accessible not only to a small elite public in Lima, but also in the smaller provincial towns and villages.

In doing so they hoped to cultivate a sense of pride and national identity by educating ordinary Peruvians about their rich indigenous heritage, and to underscore their respect for the ancient Andean cultures, they took Quechua names. Hernan was Yaro Willka, Pedro was Wari Willka.

When I first read the Anecdotes, in the depths of that dark winter in the 90's when Peru seemed fragmented and traumatised by terrorism, I was warmed by the cheerful intimacy amongst this little band of adventurers. The bond between Hernan and Pedro is obvious. So is the rather endearing difference in their personalities illustrated in this story. Hernan's original title for it in Spanish was  Mano a mano - Hand in hand.

Yaro Willka and Wari Willka
In which our young idealist pays heavily for a fit of indolence

 Casma valley and the Sechín archeological site 
Sylvain2803 CC BY-SA 3.0 
By the time of the Casma expeditions I had already been working for Tello for a year. He was dedicated and demanding, and as his illustrator and secretary I was used to a tough working environment. the wage paid to the excavation labourers was about 200% more than the meagre salary I received, but I was enchanted by it all because I had a real love of archaeology.  

But the truth is that Tello was relentlessly meticulous, and any error, no matter how miniscule, would throw him into a bad mood.  The longest telling off I ever received in my life happened in Mojeque – a site located ten kilometers from Casma. I think it must’ve set some kind of record because it lasted on and off more or less for two whole days. And this is how it happened. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

El Huaquero

Ancient artefacts that have gone walkabout all over the world are nowadays finding their way back home to museums where they can be enjoyed by everyone. Looted treasure, via unwitting explorers, local grave robbers and enterprising middlemen, can wind up in all sorts of places - from museums, to top end private collections, to the more humble dwellings of ordinary citizens.

In Peru, discoveries are made all the time in remote areas of a country where a rural population still struggles to make ends meet. Add to the mix a lack of trust in institutions, and it's easy for some to argue that there's nothing wrong with a 'pickings for all' approach.

To Tello the real value of an object was not the price it could fetch, but the story it would tell. Indeed his life was dedicated to bringing that story to the Peruvian people.  

He was pitted against looters of all types, as well as negligence and government indifference. Local tomb raiders posed a problematic dilemma .... whilst they were undoubtedly his sworn enemies, they could also help lead him to sites.

Silver and copper alloy headdress - Peru, 100-700 AD
 property of a Swiss gentleman acquired 1960 in the Paris art market. 
Vestervang House Auctions catalogue.

In this story Hernan tells of a chance encounter in the Casma valley which they hope can further their research. But science is not exactly uppermost in the mind of this particular local peasant.

El Huaquero 
In which an enthusiastic entrepreneur almosts gets more than he is bargaining for

Tello was in the Casma Valley one day, exploring every corner of the countryside and making notes on all the geographical features in order to make a detailed report, when we came across a small hut. The peasant who emerged from within could barely speak Spanish. Tello asked him for the names of all the nearby spots and landmarks, but he studiously ignored us, probably because we were strangers. Tello then decided to ask him if by any chance he had any artefacts