The artist, designer, and pedagogue Elena Izcue (1889–1970) was a pioneer in the field of Peruvian decorative arts and among the first to take inspiration from Peruvian pre-Hispanic motifs. Relying on those motifs, she designed an impressive collection of textiles for the famed House of Worth in Paris during the 1930s, to which she owes her international reputation. That can be considered the high point of her career; yet it nonetheless marked a retreat from the far more ambitious project that she undertook before her departure from Peru in 1927. This article aims to reconstruct that project. I argue that Izcue’s chief objective was to bring the appreciation of pre-Columbian themes and motifs out of the realm of public monumentality and into that of domestic consumption. Izcue sought, in other words, to produce decorative objects that might furnish the homes of a rising class of modest, urban, white-collar workers with both “national” designs and domestically produced materials. After analyzing Izcue’s approach to her sources of inspiration as well as the relatively limited opportunities that she had to present her vision, I discuss the prevailing social attitudes that prevented her project from being fully legible for her intended audience. In the article’s concluding section, I assess the significance of Izcue’s aesthetic recuperation of the pre-Columbian past against the backdrop of both the official and contestatory indigenisms that rose to prominence in Peru during the twenties.
La artista, diseñadora y pedagoga Elena Izcue (1889–1970) fue pionera en el campo de las artes decorativas peruanas y una de las primeras en inspirarse en motivos del Perú prehispánico. Basándose en tales motivos, Izcue diseñó durante la década de 1930 una impresionante colección de textiles para la famosa Casa Worth de París, a la que debe su reputación internacional. Aunque la colección puede considerarse el punto culminante de su carrera, supuso un distanciamiento estético con respecto al proyecto mucho más ambicioso que había emprendido antes de su partida de Perú en 1927. En el presente artículo, se reconstruye este proyecto. Sostengo que el principal objetivo de Izcue era trasladar la práctica de apreciar temas y motivos precolombinos del ámbito de la monumentalidad pública al espacio doméstico. Izcue buscó, en otras palabras, producir objetos decorativos que pudieran amueblar los hogares de una nueva clase urbana de profesionales asalariados con diseños “nacionales” y materiales producidos en el país. Después de analizar el acercamiento de Izcue a sus propias fuentes de inspiración y las oportunidades relativamente limitadas que ella tuvo para presentar su visión, abordaré las actitudes sociales predominantes que impidieron que su proyecto fuera completamente legible para el público al que ella pretendía dirigirse. En la última sección del artículo, analizo el significado de la recuperación estética del pasado precolombino de Izcue en el contexto de los indigenismos oficiales y contestatarios que cobraron protagonismo en el Perú durante la década de 1920.
A artista, designer e pedagoga Elena Izcue (1889–1970) foi pioneira no campo das artes decorativas peruanas e uma das primeiras a se inspirar nos motivos pré-hispânicos peruanos. Baseando-se nesses motivos, ela desenvolveu uma impressionante coleção de tecidos para a famosa House of Worth em Paris durante a década de 1930, à qual ela deve sua reputação internacional. Esse pode ser considerado o ponto alto de sua carreira; ainda assim, marcou um recuo em relação ao projeto muito mais ambicioso que ela empreendeu antes de sua partida do Peru em 1927. Este artigo visa reconstruir esse projeto. Argumento que o principal objetivo de Izcue era trazer a apreciação de temas e motivos pré-colombianos do âmbito da monumentalidade pública para aquele do consumo doméstico. Izcue procurou, em outras palavras, produzir objetos decorativos – que pudessem mobiliar as casas de uma classe ascendente de trabalhadores modestos, urbanos e de colarinho branco – com design “nacional” e materiais produzidos domesticamente. Depois de analisar a abordagem de Izcue às suas fontes de inspiração, bem como as oportunidades relativamente limitadas que ela teve para apresentar sua visão, discuto as atitudes sociais predominantes que impediram que seu projeto fosse totalmente legível para seu público-alvo. Na seção final do artigo, avalio a importância da recuperação estética de Izcue do passado pré-colombiano no contexto dos indigenismos oficial e contestatório que ganharam destaque no Peru durante os anos vinte.
In Peru, the 1920s were marked by a surge of interest in the country’s autochthonous past that, rather paradoxically, was shared by both the establishment and the most progressive artists and intellectuals. That decade saw a proliferation of pre-Columbian symbols in public spaces throughout Lima, the coastal capital of the country, which can be partly attributed to President Augusto B. Leguía’s penchant for Inca monumentality. During his eleven-year dictatorship (the so-called “Oncenio”) from 1919 to 1930, Leguía launched a number a reforms intent on modernizing the country’s economic structures. In the early years of his presidency, moreover, he broke with the traditional landed oligarchy and was at least nominally attentive to the demands of broader strata of the Peruvian population, including the highland peasants and a rising class of urban mestizo workers.1 The twenties, in many ways, belonged to Leguía, but those years also witnessed the rise of radical pro-Indian thinkers, like the Marxist José Carlos Mariátegui, who saw in Leguía’s glorification of the Indigenous past a frivolous attempt to disguise the barbaric exploitation that the Indigenous majorities were still suffering at the hands of the landowning elite.
The work of Elena Izcue (1889–1970) is a testament to this crucial period during which the question emerged of whether the pre-Columbian legacy, having been embraced by the establishment, could effectively serve to represent the Indigenous masses or, at the very least, their interests. Izcue trained as a painter at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (National School of Fine Arts, ENBA), where she was a member of the inaugural class. Over the course of roughly seven years, from 1919 to 1926, she produced numerous paintings of Indigenous subjects that arguably betray the influence of José Sabogal, the most important artist of his generation and, in Mariátegui’s words, “the first Peruvian painter” (fig. 1).2 Yet she concurrently pursued a systematic study of pre-Columbian artifacts that would serve as the basis for her subsequent design work. Taking inspiration from those sources, she would create an impressive collection of textiles for the famed House of Worth in Paris during the thirties, to which she owes her international reputation (fig. 2).
That can be considered the high point of Izcue’s career. While still in Peru, however, she undertook a number of projects, from a complete display interior to a decorative arts workshop, to which relatively scant attention has been paid, in part because of a certain tendency among scholars to focus on the international circulation of her work. Nevertheless, her most important contribution might precisely lie in those piecemeal, largely lost projects that, I argue, sought to develop a modern Peruvian decorative style for the urban middle classes. There is, as might be inferred, a certain aspect of national pride to these endeavors. But what distinguishes them against the backdrop of their era is that they addressed the past not in terms of symbolic representation but as a resource for economic activity. Izcue, as we will see in this essay, took the question of the autochthonous out of the realm of public monumentality and into those of taste and consumption.
In February 1921, Philip Ainsworth Means, then director of the National Museum of Archaeology in Lima, wrote an open letter to the minister of public instruction suggesting that it was time for Peru to have a school of national arts that might give the young the opportunity to learn the country’s ancestral techniques of ceramics, textile production, and metalworking.3 The project envisioned by the US-born, Harvard-educated archaeologist was ambitious. To his mind, recent archaeological discoveries, like those of Nasca, Paracas, and Moche cultures (the latter then known as proto-Chimu), should not only elicit expressions of national pride; the artifacts made by the ancient inhabitants could in fact be used as sources of inspiration for the decorative arts and, in that capacity, contribute to the economic development of the country.
In preparation for the new school, Means proposed, a pilot program could be implemented involving both the museum and the ministry. The museum would grant a select group of students (presumably students from the recently created ENBA) access to its collections so that they could, in a rigorous but creative way, analyze pre-Columbian objects in terms of both their style and techniques of production. The ministry, for its part, would establish a number of technical schools that, relying on the research conducted at the museum, would adapt the ancient knowledge to the needs of modern life. For the project to be sustainable, local artisans should be involved. Working in close association with the government, Means argued, Indigenous weavers could become acquainted with recent technological developments that might help them improve their practice (for example, modern artisanal looms), combining them with a repertoire of motifs and patterns, some more than two thousand years old, that had long disappeared from collective memory. In addition to this, the project would equip the students with unique archaeological knowledge that might enable them to apply for handsomely paid jobs abroad, either as craftsmen or designers. It was therefore essential that the government launch an aggressive campaign to raise international awareness of the beauty of Peruvian pre-Columbian design. If concerted efforts were made to publicize the excellence of Peruvian craft, he believed, it might even be possible to export luxury goods—rugs, curtains, and even clothing—to the finest department stores abroad, like Harrods in London or Sloane in New York.
Means’s project would not come to fruition: he left the country shortly after, apparently unwilling to work with the museum’s modest budget. Yet his open letter predicted Izcue’s future career with remarkable prescience. Alongside her studies of painting and drawing at the academy, she pursued an independent strain of research into pre-Columbian objects. Over the course of several years, as her archive reveals, she studied hundreds of artifacts held in public and private collections throughout Peru: textiles and ceramics, above all, but also objects as diverse as mummy bundles, khipus, and instruments for spinning and plying yarn. Her initial output consisted of many hundreds of watercolor studies that were to provide her with an enormously useful basis for her future career as a designer in Europe. It is possible, however, that Means’s idea of opening the museum’s collection to a group of select art students had been inspired by Izcue in the first place; it was she in fact who, as Means himself would recall, approached him in October 1920 to ask permission to study the museum’s holdings.4
Whoever was the source of the initial spark, it is clear that Izcue’s own vision aligned with Means’s in several important respects. Like Means, Izcue was wholeheartedly committed to education, particularly technical education. She also seized on the idea that if pre-Columbian motifs were to be productively employed in the decorative arts, they would have to be adapted to modern standards of taste. But for all that they had in common, Izcue remained relatively indifferent to the ancient techniques of making that seemed to have captivated Means’s imagination; she focused rather exclusively on motif and pattern, leaving to the side, for example, the complex forms of weaving for which Andean textiles are famous.5 Moreover, she was interested neither in producing luxury goods nor in serving international markets, even though, rather paradoxically, she would eventually do just that. What she endeavored to accomplish prior to leaving for Paris in 1927 was to change patterns of consumption among the Peruvian middle classes toward an appreciation of the local. The local, in this case, had two distinct yet complementary aspects: first and foremost, the artistic legacy of pre-Columbian cultures; second, domestically produced materials, textiles above all, that the urban middle classes could afford.
But before examining how those two aspects converge in Izcue’s work, it is important to understand how she approached her sources of inspiration. From early on, her attention overwhelmingly focused on zoomorphic motifs. The bulk of her studies focus on cat, bird, and fish forms taken from Nasca pottery and textiles, as well as similar animal and vegetal designs drawn from Paracas, Chimu, and Chancay artifacts (figs. 3 and 4).6
She was also clearly drawn to the more abstract, geometrical step-fret and wave-and-step motifs ubiquitous in Andean textiles, which appear regularly in her studies (figs. 5 and 6). Few Inca artifacts, or even highland artifacts more generally, appear in her drawings. This absence of the pre-Hispanic culture most closely associated with Peruvian history might have had to do with the particular objects available to Izcue for study, but it is also possible that she found Inca art too spare for her decorative purposes.7 In general, though, Izcue followed her personal tastes. Whatever the ritual or symbolic meanings of the motifs she chose might have been, she did not take them into account; it was their formal qualities that mattered the most to her.8
Nor does she seem to have been particularly interested in anything like scientific accuracy. In principle, her work was modeled on both the tradition of archaeological drawing and that of the ornament book, both of which she would have certainly been familiar with.9 Yet it adhered to neither genre rigidly. Some of her drawings do indeed carefully chart the irregular borders of textile fragments and record the texture of their weave (see fig. 6), or even reproduce entire objects, like textile pouches or ceramic vessels. The vast majority of her watercolors, however, isolate motifs from the particular object on which they were found, at times simplifying, changing colors, or otherwise altering them (see figs. 4 and 5). That was a conscious decision on her part. According to Means, she had a talent for selecting the aesthetically significant elements from an intricate ancient design so as to create new patterns of great elegance, beauty, and simplicity.10 In this sense, she would deliberately soften or elide “all those parts which the modern mind would find to be merely grotesque.”11 True, we do occasionally find some intimations of violence in her studies, such as trophy heads, but the explicit sexuality and violence that Izcue would have certainly come across in her research are rarely found within her watercolor archive. Last but not least, she would in general avoid depictions of a narrative kind, such as those commonly found in Moche ceramics.
Through this process of selection, abstraction, and reinterpretation, Izcue came to possess a vast repertoire of functional graphic units that she would deploy and arrange according to her aesthetic preferences and practical needs. One revealing source for the way she used those units is her two-volume drawing book, El arte peruano en la escuela (Peruvian Art in the Classroom), published in 1926 (vol. 1) and 1929 (vol. 2). Following a workbook format, this text was purported to be used for art instruction in Peruvian schools, offering select motifs in black across the top of gridded sheets as models that students were to replicate below (figs. 7 and 8).12
The second volume is of particular interest, as it includes a section with models—something like a craft manual—for how those motifs might be combined and applied to different objects. Thus we learn that a small canvas bag can be decorated with a simple bird drawn from a Nasca textile, either by doubling that figure to create a central symmetrical motif or, alternatively, by tessellating it into paired columns. In another telling example, Izcue invites the reader to arrange a decidedly more geometrized bird from a textile from Chimbote into repeated bands; that motif could also be iterated and inverted so as to create more complex symmetrical shapes to be painted or appliqued onto a variety of surfaces, shrunk or expanded to fit its object (fig. 9).
Izcue’s take on her sources of inspiration was, as we can see, quite liberal. Not only did she “reimagine,” as it were, ancient pre-Columbian motifs, she also sought to redeploy them using techniques that are inherently amenable to both craft and mass production. The ones that she favored—appliqué, embroidery, and block printing—allow for the pattern to be added onto an already finished piece of cloth. This in turn allows the process of making to be divided up into several distinct stages, flexibly catering to the needs of both the home seamstress and the factory. That is not the case, it should be noted, with artisanal weaving, a particularly time-consuming, labor-intensive, and complex method of making in which the production of the pattern is inseparable from the production of the textile itself. Instead of following (and struggling against) the severe logic imposed by the interlacing of warp and weft, she preferred the freer rein that surface-oriented techniques gave her to work out her designs. In this regard, her approach was diametrically opposed to that of the Bauhaus weaver Anni Albers, the other artist most dedicated to the study of pre-Columbian textiles during the twenties. For Albers, ancient Andean textiles represented the utmost example of how the interlocking of complex multi-ply structures could result in an indivisible unit of design and material.13 Izcue was rather driven by the beauty of the motif and its potential seriality. At the same time, she was seduced by the prospect of producing on a large scale all those furnishings—cushions and pillows, curtains and lamp shades—that had increasingly come to be regarded as indispensable for the decoration of the home of a middle-class family.
This vision first burst forth onto a very public stage surprisingly early in Izcue’s career. It took the form of a display interior that was exhibited in the halls of the National Museum of Archaeology—the very site where Means had given Izcue access to the collection for study some months before—on the occasion of the centennial celebration of Peru’s independence in July 1921. Dubbed the Salón incaico (“Inca salon”), this complete interior adhered to the Art Nouveau ideal of a unified Gesamtkunstwerk.14 According to descriptions from the time, it included wall decoration, painted baseboards, a ceiling frieze, stained glass, furniture, a rug, cushions and pillows, and a lamp.15 Though none of those objects has survived (the only pieces of visual evidence that we have are a few preparatory sketches [fig. 10] and some fragmented photographs of a later installation, more on which below), the ample press coverage that the display room received will help us get a sense of Izcue’s vision and, perhaps more important, of how challenging such a vision likely was for Peruvian audiences in the early twenties.
In principle, no place would have seemed more appropriate for Izcue to present her vision of a modern Peruvian interior than the National Museum, especially in the midst of a celebration of Peruvian culture. Interestingly, however, visitors seem to have felt inclined to see the Salón incaico not as the prototype of a modern Peruvian interior but as a room that contained authentic Inca objects, or as a period room recreating the interior of a pre-Columbian residence. Newspapers even referred to her interior as “the exhibition of Inca art at the National Museum.”16 This misperception was not completely unjustified. Her room, after all, was housed in an archaeology museum: the contiguity of other galleries in which authentic pre-Columbian objects were in fact on display might have thus conditioned the perception of the inattentive viewer. Izcue’s sketches, moreover, reveal that the room was meant to include a cabinet that might perhaps have contained objects from the museum’s own holdings—a conceit that, if actually realized, might have reinforced the impression that all the objects on display were pre-Columbian relics. But the main factor to take into consideration here, I think, is that the very idea that a modern Peruvian family could decorate their home with objects inspired by pre-Columbian motifs was too much of a novelty to be immediately apprehended by most audiences at the time.
Of all the attributes that could be conceivably assigned to pre-Columbian objects, the least obvious for Peruvians during the twenties was the one that Izcue valued the most—their beauty. They were objects that primordially functioned as symbols of Peru’s national identity. As such, they reminded Peruvians that the country’s highlands had been the cradle of the Inca Empire, the greatest in South America, and were therefore most appreciated when manifested on a monumental scale. Monumentality, indeed, was highly esteemed by President Leguía. During his eleven-year rule, Leguía advocated for, if not directly supported, the development of a new national style that revolved around pyramidal and stepped shapes, trapezoidal forms, stonework reminiscent of Inca and Tiwanaku constructions, and references to pre-Columbian iconography from cultures separated by hundreds or thousands of years. Among the best-known examples of this style is the building of the National Museum of Archaeology itself. Originally a private museum founded by the sugar industrialist Víctor Larco Herrera, it was acquired by the state in 1924 and today houses the National Museum of Peruvian Culture (fig. 11). Others include the statue of Manco Cápac, the mythical first Inca ruler, erected on the periphery of the historic center of Lima as a gift from the Japanese community in 1926 (later moved to the working-class district of La Victoria), and the “Neoperuvian” façade of the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, designed by the Spanish architect Manuel Piqueras Cotolí (fig. 12).17
But in addition to bearing this public symbolism of nationalistic overtones, pre-Columbian objects, when privately owned, were recognized as markers of wealth, status, and good taste. Well established among the oligarchic families, the practice of collecting so-called “Peruvian antiquities” dated back to the late eighteenth century; yet by the mid-nineteenth century, as Stefanie Gänger has shown, it gradually began to draw the attention of a new class of professionals and entrepreneurs eager to raise their social status.18 What made pre-Columbian artifacts appealing, in this case, was their rarity and antiquity. They were regarded as signs of distinction. Wealthy families would exhibit them in a cabinet, much as Izcue had in her display room; but that cabinet, like the rest of their furnishings, still adhered to European styles and was preferably imported from Europe. Nobody among the comfortable classes, especially the new aspirational middle class, would have entertained the possibility of extracting pre-Columbian motifs from their fetishized material basis so as to apply them for decorative purposes.
Once the centennial celebrations had concluded, Izcue did something that, perhaps unwittingly, would help make her original vision more readily legible to the public: she transferred the contents of the Salón incaico to her own home in the historical center of Lima.19 Thus reinstalled, the interior acquired new functions and meanings (figs. 13 and 14). First and most obviously, it became inhabited. No longer tied to the institutional space of the museum, the objects that Izcue had designed for the centennial now revealed themselves to be either decorations or utilitarian items that belonged to her and with which she lived. Antiquities from the artist’s own modest collection, the majority of them ceramic vessels or huacos, were displayed in a cabinet. Those objects, housed as they were in a private home, evidently lacked the connotations of cultural patrimony with which the museum’s holdings were invested. Moreover, they shared a space with her own modern, indigenist paintings, which squarely rooted the ensemble in the present.
And yet, even in this new setting, the Salón incaico would continue to puzzle visitors, including one as learned as Óscar Miró Quesada de la Guerra, a noted science journalist. His remarks apropos the salon, written under his nom de plume “Racso” in June 1923, convey a sense of both profound admiration and utter confusion. Upon entering a small room, Racso writes, he “felt suddenly transported to the ancient Peru of the Incas: curtains, rugs, blinds, lamps, papers, tapestries, glass, furniture, and all kinds of decorations were of pure Inca style.”20 Although Racso was evidently aware that none of those household items were used, let alone known, by the Inca (those objects, he rightly observes, were “of pure Inca style”), he candidly described his experience of the room as that of entering a time machine. Almost immediately, however, he brings his account into sharper focus. He observes, for example, that the chair on which he is sitting is “carved with ornamental themes taken from huacos” and that “the lamplight softly filtered its veiled clarity through paper cut out with motifs from the Nasca civilization.” More significantly, he also explains, reflecting on his initial confusion, why he felt transported to an Inca past that had never been: “That experience was unknown to me. Rooms with huacos, façades of houses decorated with Inca motifs can be found everywhere in Lima; but I had never been given the opportunity to contemplate the reincarnation of the Inca spirit in the totality of such a beautiful interior.”21
The visitor who perhaps best understood Izcue’s vision was José Otero, the art critic for Variedades, a popular illustrated magazine that offered a broad variety of reports, ranging from society happenings and sport news to archaeological discoveries and the latest technological developments abroad.22 In an article published in July 1923, Otero hailed Izcue’s invention of a “new decorative style,” outlining her systematic study of pre-Columbian artifacts as well as her modern stylization of ancient patterns and motifs.23 Turning to the decorative objects themselves, Otero noted that they were handmade (which is unsurprising considering the fact that they had been created for a singular exhibition), but more importantly, he praised their simplicity: no gold or precious stone embellishments had been added, and there was no sign of pretense or false ostentation. Izcue’s creations, he stressed, had been crafted from “modest wood” and “vulgar cloth.”24 And yet they were extraordinary because of the “good taste” of the artist. While we do not know what kind of impact this article might have had among the readers of Variedades, Otero certainly struck all the chords that, in theory at least, could have made Izcue’s vision appealing to a broad audience of middle-class Peruvians. Of special significance, in this respect, is Otero’s emphasis on how Izcue’s good taste was capable of transforming humble, even unappealing materials into refined and desirable consumer goods.
Key to understanding the considerable attention that Izcue garnered during the twenties and thirties is her reputation as a chic person in elite circles. The child of a noted diplomat, José Rafael de Izcue, Elena can indeed be said to have belonged to those circles, but only to some extent: she was born of an extramarital affair. Ideally, Elena Izcue should have been Elena de Izcue. Yet due to the circumstances of her birth, she was not legally entitled to use that preposition so charged with aristocratic connotations. It is not that don José Rafael had refused to recognize his daughter; he might have done so, but he passed away shortly after Elena and her twin sister, Victoria, were born. This means that they were likewise not entitled to inherit.25 Even so, the Izcue sisters managed to get by; they received support from relatives and friends of their late father that prevented them from living in dire poverty and allowed them to receive an education. In subsequent years, moreover, their distinguished origins (even if tainted, we might guess, by some gossip) enabled them to travel in social circles well beyond their means. Thus they had the chance to befriend the Larco Herrera brothers, Víctor and Rafael, both captains of industry and antiquity collectors, who would patronize Elena’s work in different capacities. But the Izcues still fit imperfectly in that world of elegant salons. Unlike other bona fide upper-class women, they were compelled to do something uncommon and potentially embarrassing: work. Beginning in their teenage years, Elena and Victoria were both employed as primary school teachers. Still, they were widely acknowledged to come from a “good family,” as they lived in a highly stratified society in which hierarchy, rather than being straightforwardly defined in terms of wealth, involved other, more subjective factors such as family name, race, education, and manners.26
What Elena lacked in economic resources, she compensated for with batteries of cultural capital. In sociological terms, she belonged in that liminal space that Pierre Bourdieu, in more general terms, has characterized as “the dominated fraction of the dominant class.”27 Whether purposefully or not, she was capable of projecting an aura of desirability onto what she liked—one that was certainly perceived by the elite, but could also appeal to the middle classes, given their pronounced tendency to imitate the ways of the upper classes so as to look decent and reputable.
During the twenties, the conventional wisdom about what counted as “good taste” among the Limeño comfortable classes was dictated by European styles and trends. There existed, moreover, a strong preference for consumer goods made abroad—meaning Europe and the United States. Those goods included furniture and technology, but imported textiles were particularly desired. Domestic cottons and woolens, as noted by Benjamin Orlove, were generally avoided as they were considered, not necessarily without reason, to be of middling quality compared to their French and English counterparts.28 Interestingly, however, the cotton textile industry had been registering a steady growth since the turn of the century. If in the late nineteenth century only 5 percent of the cotton textiles used in the country were locally produced, that figure grew to almost 50 percent during the twenties.29 That was because there was a growing demand for domestic cloth among the lower social ranks: manual laborers, quite evidently, but also a petite bourgeoisie consisting of public servants, office clerks, and salespeople.
Much like the elites, these white-collar workers were deeply troubled by the prospect of failing to project an image of respectability; yet they lacked the economic resources to measure up. They struggled to send their children to the right schools, be seen at the right cafés, and wear the right clothes. They would therefore frequently complain about their salaries, arguing that because of the very nature of their jobs, they had to incur extra expenses that manual workers did not.30 Faced with these difficulties, they would oftentimes try to add a touch of luxury to the cheap domestic cloth they could afford by hiring a skilled seamstress who, with her best efforts, would try to copy the latest European styles.
To all these conventional expectations and patterns of consumption Izcue offered a radically different alternative: instead of copying European designs, she decorated her objects with modernized pre-Columbian motifs (i.e. “national” motifs), and instead of resorting to foreign materials, she proudly used domestic, “vulgar cloth.” In short, her designs flew in the face of all prescriptions for what desirable decorative objects should be in Lima at the time. Nonetheless, as Otero’s praise reveals, Izcue’s objects could still been seen, at least in some circles, as exuding refinement and sophistication, as they bore the stamp of good taste.
Shortly after Otero’s article was published, in late 1923, Izcue was given the opportunity to test the commercial viability of her vision. Under the sponsorship of Víctor Larco Herrera, a small workshop was opened that promised to turn the singular objects of the Salón incaico into products of broader consumption. Appropriately housed within Larco Herrera’s archaeology museum, the workshop functioned in a manner that echoed Means’s proposal to the minister of public instruction. Like Means, Larco Herrera believed that the artistic richness of pre-Columbian cultures, if put to the service of the decorative arts, could spur the domestic household textile industry and even that of apparel. The recent archaeological findings, in other words, could strengthen the manufacturing sector of a country whose economy relied almost exclusively on the exportation of raw materials.31
So even if Izcue’s workshop favored artisanal production, it could nonetheless have an impact on other mechanized industries. It was, moreover, a center for both instruction and research. The young pupils Izcue worked with had access to her archive of stylized pre-Columbian motifs, but they could also pursue independent research and develop their own designs through study of the museum’s holdings. The photographs of the workshop that have survived show the artisans at work among hundreds of pre-Columbian ceramic vessels housed on open shelves (fig. 15). In modest quantities, they produced home furnishings like pillows and lamps along with personal accessories like portfolio cases and book holders, which were sold at the museum as well as the famous Casa Oeschle, perhaps the most important department store in the country, and the Palais Concert, a grand European-style café in the center of Lima frequented by artists and intellectuals.32
Did these uncommon objects enthrall the middle classes as they had Racso and Otero? We have no definite answer, but given the fact that those goods were rather niche (at least based on the exclusive locations at which they were sold), we can imagine that they failed to address the broad audience at which Izcue had aimed.
Whatever promise this project may have had, it largely vanished upon Izcue’s relocation to Europe in 1927. Although she continued to pursue her design work based on the same pre-Columbian sources that she so greatly admired (and now to much acclaim), the ambitions that had originally sustained that work were irremissibly lost in the new context. In Europe, the prospect of creating a modern Peruvian decorative style that could be recognized as such by all Peruvians was lost. Lost too was the possibility of shaping the taste of the Limeño middle classes toward an appreciation of pre-Columbian art and, more generally, of all things Peruvian. And lost, finally, was the promise of stimulating the textile industry in Peru, as envisioned by all of the patrons that had supported her work.33
In my discussion of Izcue’s project thus far, I have focused on the prevailing social attitudes and notions of good taste that conditioned its reception in Peru during the twenties. I want now to assess its artistic and historical significance by placing it within the larger context of other contemporary projects that similarly turned to the autochthonous as their subject.
In Peru, as mentioned earlier, the twenties were characterized by a renewed interest in the country’s autochthonous roots or, to borrow from an important chronicler of those years, “all things Indian Peruvian” (todo lo indio peruano).34 In spite of its vagueness—or perhaps because of it—this phrase I think manages to capture the essence of the phenomenon that the writer in question, literary critic Luis Alberto Sánchez, purported to describe: indigenism.35 An inescapable indeterminacy surrounds indigenism, a movement (and I might be already implying too much in using this term) that flourished, almost simultaneously, within different fields of artistic and intellectual production, not only in Peru but throughout Latin America.36 There is an indigenist literature and an indigenist painting, there is an indigenist politics and an indigenist anthropology, and there is this single academic discipline—archaeology—that in a country such as Peru might be considered intrinsically indigenist. The time-honored image of the tree and the branches is not a good fit: indigenism was not a unified front nor did it have anything like a doctrinal basis. Indeed, given the fact that indigenism was channeled through such varied outlets, any attempt at turning Sánchez’s general remark into a more precise and robust definition may narrow the subject of discussion down to the point of making it only suitable for taxonomical purposes and only, perhaps more importantly, within a single area of study.
Through all its manifestations, however, indigenism can be said to have engaged with at least one of four related but separate issues: first, the Indigenous past; second, the customs of contemporary Indigenous peoples; third, the empowerment of Indigenous peoples; and fourth, the role that Indigenous culture—past or present—should play in the task of defining Peru’s national identity. That said, it is important to note that all of the arts, disciplines, or institutions that addressed those questions did so in ways particular to their own individual modes, conventions, and history. Therefore, indigenist endeavors cannot be easily encompassed within a single analytical framework.
In the case of literature (or perhaps more precisely, literary studies), for example, works that dealt with the pre-Columbian past do not readily fall into the category of indigenism, but rather that of Indianism: a subgenre of prose fiction that lavishly recreated, in a rather Westernized way, the life of the Inca nobility, offering its readers ample romance and exoticism.37 Indigenist literature, in contrast, revolved around the lives of contemporary Indigenous peasants. But even in this latter case, those peoples were not necessarily presented in a favorable light: writers whose works are considered part of the indigenist canon, such as Enrique López Albújar or Ventura García Calderón, focused on what the white elite used to call the “corruptions of the indigenous race” (vicios de la raza indígena): ignorance, violence, resentment, alcoholism.38 As the century dragged on, however, forms of indigenist literature that sought to convey the worldview of the Indigenous peoples of Peru in a more objective and sympathetic way would emerge. In some cases (most notably that of novelist José María Arguedas), those inquiries raised important questions about form and language: if indigenist literature, ideally, should represent the Indigenous peoples, could it possibly perform that task in a language, Spanish, that was ultimately alien to those peoples as it had been imposed by European invaders? To what extent was writing, in and of itself, an obstacle to conveying the thoughts and feelings of peoples that had historically lived their lives in an oral culture? How could a truly representative literature for those peoples be conceivably written in vernacular languages that had no standard written form?39
The space of possibilities for indigenist visual artists was in a certain way wider. For a start, they did not have to abide by genre conventions in which the past and the present, the precolonial and the postcolonial, were segregated as a matter of principle. (Not insignificantly, scholars in art history—or visual culture, more generally—do not make as clear a distinction between Indianist and indigenist artists as literary scholars do.) In working with image and not with text, moreover, visual artists had in principle the chance to engage with the pre-Columbian past in stylistic terms. For a writer, or at any rate a prose writer, the autochthonous past could at best serve as a source of themes; a visual artist, on the other hand, could use it to develop a new visual language.
But in dealing with images, the visual arts were at the same time burdened with a duty to represent and produce national symbols that was not as strongly felt in the realm of literature. The visual arts, as President Leguía understood so well, could be effectively deployed so as to produce a national style that could be recognized as such both in Peru and abroad—a style that should ideally evoke past imperial glories and bolster his own legitimacy as a leader.40 Images, however, could also serve to represent what the bulk of indigenist artists, ranging from Martín Chambi in photography to José Sabogal in painting, considered to be the true face of the Peruvian nation: the vast population of Indigenous peasants. To some extent, then, the distinction between Indianism and indigenism can be meaningfully applied in the case of the visual arts too, so long as one bears in mind that the question here is not primarily one of subject matter (both Chambi and Sabogal, it should be noted, occasionally dealt with pre-Columbian themes and motifs) but one of approach.
The Indianist approach, as crystallized in the neo-Inca style that flourished during Leguía’s presidency, was heavily indebted to archaeology both formally and conceptually: formally insofar as it deployed the findings of archaeological research for scenographic purposes; conceptually because it focused on the question of origins. To clarify this latter point, recall that in countries that can reasonably claim to have been the cradle of complex ancient civilizations, archaeology has played a distinctly central role in the development of a sense of national unity among the population, infusing the “soil” with powerful connotations of past grandeur and historical continuity. Moreover, in excavating and unearthing successive strata of material culture, archaeologists have provided nationalists everywhere with a persuasive image of the nation as a single entity—as if the fact that different civilizational layers were found in the same site offered sufficient proof of the existence of a single historical personality or “genius” that had inhabited the land since time immemorial.41
In the case of Peru, however, archaeology did not contribute to the creation of a sense of national unity in any straightforward way, in part because of the overabundance of sites of interest across the territory: the question of the “ur-culture”—that is, the original culture from which all others in the Peruvian territory would have presumably descended—rapidly came to the fore, channeling strong regionalist sentiments and boiling over into acrimonious professional rivalries. While one of the founders of Peruvian archaeology, Julio C. Tello, offered Chavín, a culture that flourished in the northern Andean highlands from 900 to 200 BCE, as the cradle of civilization in the territory that would become Peru, coastal elites (like the Larco Herrera family) felt more inclined to assign that role to coastal cultures such as Nasca or Paracas.42 Thus, even at the highest level of scholarship archaeological practice during this period oftentimes functioned as something of a screen onto which elite and middle-class nationalists would project their own views and agendas. The question of origins, in this sense, belonged in a symbolic order that was far removed from the needs of contemporary Indigenous peasants.
This was one reason to be suspicious of those who sought the essence of the nation in the pre-Columbian past. Another, and perhaps more insidious, entailed what can be called the “archaeologization” of the Indigenous peoples. This explains why the most influential of all indigenist artists in Peru, Sabogal, generally refrained from engaging with the Inca or pre-Inca past. Few of the easel paintings to which he devoted the bulk of his efforts address pre-Columbian themes; it is the contemporary Indian, whom he rendered in loose brushstrokes and bold unmodulated colors, that mattered the most to him (fig. 16). And while some of his most famous works in the realm of design do indeed rely on pre-Columbian motifs, he did not offer them as national archetypes. He was, in other words, very careful not to conflate the representation of Indians of his day with that of the ancient inhabitants of the Peruvian territory. He was alive to the danger of spreading the noxious idea that the present-day Indigenous masses were stuck in the pre-Columbian past and therefore had no present or future. In reality, however, those peoples (while still holding some ancestral beliefs) were not Inca, less so Moche or Nasca: they had been significantly shaped by the experience of a colonial rule the goal of which, over the course of three centuries, had been not only to attain economic and political power but to convert pagans to Christianity. To portray the Indigenous reality as it existed in contemporary Peru thus required engaging with the colonial past, which in turn entailed reckoning with complex processes of syncretism and hybridization, both racial and cultural, that had left an imprint on traditional Indigenous art.
It should come as no surprise, then, that throughout his collaboration with the essayist and Marxist thinker Mariátegui, Sabogal designed woodblock prints based on traditional engraved gourds from the central Andes (mates burilados) that would appear on the cover of the legendary magazine Amauta (fig. 17).43 Nor is it strange that, in the decades to come, he would dedicate much of his time to studying and collecting vernacular craft from different regions of the country to the extent of establishing, almost single-handedly, the canon of what is now known as Peruvian popular art (arte popular peruano).44 As Sabogal himself put it in an interview he gave in 1950, “popular art indicates that there exists a living plastic form in the entirety of Peru’s milieu and that such art is the most immediate, the most alive; whenever a country keeps that élan alive, that country is alive as well.”45
Roughly speaking, then, the predominant attitudes toward the autochthonous in Peru fell into two camps that Mariátegui, in a characteristically eloquent piece, described as follows: on the one hand, a “platonic love for the Inca past” and, on the other, “an active and concrete solidarity with the present-day Indian.”46 Elena Izcue did not fit neatly into either group. Her overall approach to the autochthonous, it is true, seems in principle to have been fully attuned with the neo-Inca sensibility of Leguía’s Oncenio, as she grounded her vision of a modern Peruvian style in the oldest manifestations of culture in Peru. Moreover, it is evident that her work lacked the strong element of social and political vindication for which Sabogal and Chambi’s oeuvres have been rightly recognized, as it corresponded to a choice—the decorative arts—so tainted with connotations of domesticity, femininity, and decadence. But if such political urgency was absent from her work, absent too was grandiosity—there was nothing that might resemble the monumentality of the neo-Inca style.
In a context in which the autochthonous was being recuperated, excavated, or otherwise mined in different quarters for its symbolic value, Izcue brought to the fore a decidedly novel understanding of culture as economic resource. It was not viewers she primarily addressed but rather users, consumers, and producers. And what Izcue offered to that public, as discussed earlier, was modern, affordable decor that yoked together domestic design and domestic production. With hindsight, then, Izcue can be said to have been a pioneer of that now ubiquitous heritage industry in virtue of which people across the world have increasingly come to regard their cultural patrimony, from craft to folklore to historical sites, as a commodity not unlike ore, crops, or cattle.47 Traditionalists and purists might feel inclined to disallow such a view of local culture on charges of instrumentalization and commodification; yet, as cultural critic George Yúdice has convincingly argued, a strategic approach to culture as resource is not inherently at odds, and might indeed be congenial, with a sincere appreciation of one’s own heritage.48
That such was the case with Izcue is confirmed by two passages that stand out among the few pieces of writing she ever published. The first comes from the second volume of her drawing book, the one that is most manifestly geared toward craft production:
To the little reader:
Peru has a very beautiful history and is one of the richest countries on earth in the three kingdoms of Nature.
From ancient times Peru was great and powerful, and our ancestors’ Empire dominated this Continent and had great warriors and artists.
Peru was great and powerful; it can be so again whenever you want it to be, if you put your heart, your arms, and your brain to work.49
The second appears in both the first and second volumes under the heading “To the teacher”:
If children, since they enter School, are given the chance to see and develop a taste for genuinely Peruvian motifs, we believe that both a love for national things and an affectionate curiosity for things of the past can be awakened in them—one capable of yielding the best fruits of a strong, serious, and fruitful nationalism, the preparation of which is the sacred duty of today’s teachers.
We invoke our teachers’ patriotic feelings, and invite them to cooperate in the task of instilling in their students the love of Peruvian drawing; of inspiring, with eloquent and suggestive words, all the pride with which we Peruvians must love the things that are part of our oldest and most admirable artistic heritage.50
The theme of richness, both material and cultural, recurs throughout these two passages, establishing a broad correlation between history and nature. In fact, Peru’s “very beautiful history” seems here to be yet another instance of the country’s prodigality “in the three kingdoms of Nature.” The link between those two orders, of course, is a subjective one: national pride (“nationalism,” “a love for national things”), which Izcue insistently describes as fruitful and productive, as if the appreciation of “our oldest and most admirable artistic heritage” carried the seeds of material prosperity for all Peruvians.
What are we to make of such an approach to the autochthonous? That it sat uneasily among the other dominant trends of its era is plain enough. Izcue’s project stood out because it engaged with that lesser thing—the decorative—of which academic painters, including Sabogal, were largely dismissive. It stood out because the value that it ascribed to pre-Columbian artifacts lay not in notions of monumentality or antiquity, but in a rather simple one—beauty. And her project stood out because, although driven by national pride, it did not turn to the pre-Columbian past in search of national symbols. In Izcue’s case, it all boiled down to a matter of taste.
That said, it should also be noted that, because of its far-reaching economic implications, Izcue’s project raised an issue of particular importance in a country as culturally and ethnically fractured as Peru: to whom did the pre-Columbian heritage belong? Whose past was that of pre-Hispanic Peru? For this artist, it was beyond question that all Peruvians, irrespective of race and class, could legitimately claim that past as theirs. That proposition, in this day and age, might strike us as problematic, as it arouses suspicion of what has come to be known as “cultural appropriation.” To raise that charge against her, however, would be both unfair and anachronistic. She cannot be said to have attempted to capitalize on Indigenous heritage for the simple reason that pre-Columbian art (pre-Inca art, to be more specific) did not have any aesthetic value in the eyes of the majority of the Peruvian population during the twenties, and indeed was unknown to them, due to its very recent excavation.
Izcue’s aim, in this context, was to create economic value for pre-Columbian patterns by making them appealing to a broad audience of middle-class customers who were in general more attuned to European fashions. Furthermore, she was keenly aware that a Peruvian national community was yet to be achieved, and that in order to forge it, all Peruvians should be given the opportunity to recognize themselves in a shared legacy, whether actual or imagined. If judged ungenerously, her project may thus come through as an early example of nation branding. Alternatively, however, it could be regarded as a very sincere effort to build a national community on the basis of something as seemingly banal as a shared taste.
I would like to thank Claudia Brittenham, Natalia Majluf, Martín Oyata, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful criticism of earlier drafts of this essay. Rosalyn Chávarry Aramburú, from the library and archive of the Museo de Arte de Lima, generously made available documents from the substantial Elena Izcue archive housed at that institution.
For succinct overviews of Leguía’s approach to Indigenous issues, both material and symbolic, see François Chevalier, “Official Indigenismo in Peru in 1920: Origins, Significance, and Socioeconomic Scope,” in Race and Class in Latin America, ed. Magnus Mörner (New York: Columbia University Press, 1970), 185–96, and Gabriel Ramón Joffré, El neoperuano: arqueología, estilo nacional y paisaje urbano en Lima, 1910–1940 (Lima: Municipalidad Metropolitana de Lima/Sequilao Editores, 2014), 31–38. For an extended discussion of the Oncenio’s Indian legislation, see Thomas M. Davies Jr., Indian Integration in Peru: A Half Century of Experience, 1900–1948 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974).
José Carlos Mariátegui, “La obra de José Sabogal,” Mundial, June 28, 1928. Reprinted in José Carlos Mariátegui, El artista y la época (Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1959), 93. All translations are the author’s unless otherwise indicated.
Philip Ainsworth Means, “La riqueza arqueológica peruana: oficio del nuevo director del museo,” La Prensa, February 6, 1921. By Means’s own admission, his vision was partly inspired by US and Mexican precedents.
Philip Ainsworth Means, “Elena and Victoria Izcue and their Art,” Bulletin of the Pan American Union 70 (1936): 248.
Later in her career, however, Izcue seems to have developed an interest in materials and techniques. Indeed, upon her return to Peru in 1939, she ran artisanal workshops on the north coast of Peru focusing on woven straw.
Izcue’s manifest preference for coastal rather than highland cultures speaks to a moment in which ongoing archaeological excavations, both formal and informal, brought them to prominence. By 1920, as noted by Majluf and Wuffarden, Nasca, almost unknown in the late nineteenth century, and Paracas, with early discoveries dating to 1911, were already present in the public and private collections to which Izcue would have had access. Natalia Majluf and Luis Eduardo Wuffarden, Elena Izcue. El arte precolombino en la vida moderna, exh. cat. (Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima/Fundación Telefónica, 1999), 54, 56. Izcue had fallen into obscurity until the publication of this important catalog, which remains the most comprehensive survey of her life and work. For the importance of Nasca excavations during this period and the reception of Nasca objects, see Cecilia Pardo Grau, “Objeto ritual, ofrenda funeraria, obra de arte: el lugar del pasado precolombino en la historia del arte en el Perú,” in El arte antes de la historia. Para una historia del arte andino antiguo, ed. Marco Curatola Petrocchi et al. (Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú [PUCP], 2020), 217–33.
Majluf and Wuffarden, Elena Izcue, 56, 60.
Majluf and Wuffarden, 60.
Though research is lacking on Izcue’s knowledge of the history of archaeological illustration, we can safely assume that she was somewhat familiar with the genre given her work in key archaeological institutions such as the National Museum and the Víctor Larco Herrera Museum, as well as her firsthand experience with excavations on Rafael Larco Herrera’s estate on Peru’s north coast. With regard to Izcue’s relationship with the ornament book tradition, scholars have pointed to similarities between El arte peruano en la escuela and other South American compendiums of pre-Hispanic ornament, including Alberto Gelly Cantilo and Gonzalo Leguizamón Pondal’s Viracocha. Dibujos decorativos (Buenos Aires: Comisión Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1923), Roberto Bustillos’s Tiahuanacu. Dibujo lineal decorativo (La Paz: Dirección de los Almacenes Escolares, 1927), or Ricardo Rojas’s Silabario de la decoración americana (Buenos Aires: La Facultad, 1930). These books were themselves potentially in conversation with, and in part derived from, other sources, such as Charles W. Meads’s 1916 Figures in Ancient Peruvian Art, as well as European ornament books of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Along these lines, she may have known Owen Jones’s 1856 Grammar of Ornament. See Élodie Vaudry, “Elena Izcue: de un rol nacional a uno internacional. La instrumentalización y la teatralización de los ornamentos prehispánicos,” Travaux et documents hispaniques, polygraphiques. Collection numérique de l’Équipe de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Aires Culturelles 4705, 10 (2019), http://publis-shs.univ-rouen.fr/eriac/index.php? id=404; Élodie Vaudry, “Discursos ‘ornamentales’ latinoamericanos (1923–1945),” in Arte y patrimonio cultural: memoria del 56.º Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, ed. Manuel Alcántara, Mercedes García Montero, and Francisco Sánchez López (Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 2018), 404–12. On the Meads connection, see Cristina Vargas Pacheco, “Una visión del Perú a través del arte decorativo: El arte peruano en la escuela de Elena Izcue,” Mercurio peruano 524 (2011): 151–73.
Means, “Elena and Victoria Izcue,” 249.
Though intended to serve educational purposes, Izcue’s workbook, in practice, had a rather limited circulation in Peruvian schools. The only school where it is known to have been used was located on Rafael Larco Herrera’s hacienda in Chiclín. This should perhaps come as no surprise since it was Larco Herrera—a sugar industrialist, antiquity collector, and philanthropist—who funded the book, having it beautifully printed in France by Editorial Excelsior, with all introductory texts being published in Spanish, French, and English. The book also included letters of praise by curators from institutions as prestigious as the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, and the British Museum, all of which, quite curiously, are addressed not to Izcue, but to the sugar magnate. Whether or not the book had been projected to have further editions for wider local distribution, Larco Herrera’s strong hand in the only extant edition of Izcue’s workbook suggests that his priority was to spark interest in the Peruvian pre-Columbian legacy among elite international circles. See Vaudry, “Elena Izcue.”
On Albers’s approach to pre-Columbian textiles, see Virginia Gardner Troy, Anni Albers and Ancient American Textiles: From Bauhaus to Black Mountain (London: Ashgate, 2002). On the question of weaving as a medium, see T’ai Smith, Bauhaus Weaving Theory: From Feminine Craft to Mode of Design (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014). The second volume of El arte peruano en la escuela does contain one reference to the weaving techniques of Indigenous Peruvians, which suggests that Izcue did not rule out the possibility of producing woven textiles. In fact, she likely approved Means’s commissioning of rugs from weavers in Cotahuasi, Arequipa, based on her own designs circa 1920; one of those rugs eventually found its way into the Peruvian presidential palace.
To the extent that Art Nouveau had some impact on Lima’s architecture during the earliest years of the twentieth century, as exemplified by two famous buildings, Casa Courret and Casa Barragán, Izcue could not have been unfamiliar with that style. Indeed, the influence of Art Nouveau design is evident in her illustrations for the 1923 children’s book Manco Cápac: leyenda nacional para las escuelas de Chiclín, by Abelardo Gamarra, and it has been established that Izcue owned a copy of Auguste H. Thomas’s 1921 Formes et couleurs, a compendium of Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles (though she might well have acquired it in the 1930s, during her residency in Paris). See Élodie Vaudry, Les Arts précolombiens. Transferts et métamorphoses de l’Amérique latine à la France, 1875–1945 (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2020), online, n.p. For Izcue’s years in France, see also Natalia Majluf and Stéphane Martin, Elena Izcue: Lima-Paris Années 30 (Paris: Flammarion/Musée du Quai Branly, 2008). It is not advisable, however, to overstate the influence that Art Nouveau might have had on Izcue, since this might occlude the originality of her own research with pre-Columbian sources.
Alberto J. Martínez, “En el Museo Nacional: un ensayo de decoración estilo incaico,” La Prensa, August 9, 1921.
See “La exhibición de arte incaico en el Museo Nacional,” La Crónica, August 12, 1921. The same article, apparently a press release, was simultaneously published in La Prensa and El Tiempo. Although the text makes it clear that the objects on display were part of a “novel and original application of decorative art,” the reader gets the sense that Izcue was essentially furthering the “decorative” tradition of the Inca.
For discussions of the “neo-Inca” style, see Ramón Joffré, El neoperuano; Johanna Hamann, Leguía, el centenario y sus monumentos. Lima: 1919–1930 (Lima: Fondo Editorial de la PUCP, 2015); Luis Eduardo Wuffarden, ed., Manuel Piqueras Cotolí (1885–1937): arquitecto, escultor, y urbanista entre España y el Perú, exh. cat. (Lima: Museo de Arte de Lima, 2003); Elio Martucelli, “Buscando una huaca. Utopía andina, arquitectura y espacios públicos en el Perú. Primera mitad del siglo XX,” Ur[b]es 3 (2006): 203–32; and María Eugenia Yllia Miranda, “Quimera de piedra: nación, discursos y museo en la celebración del centenario de la independencia,” IIlapa Mana Tukukuq 8 (2011): 101–20.
Stefanie Gänger, Relics of the Past: The Collecting and Study of Pre-Columbian Antiquities in Peru and Chile, 1837–1911 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 115, 117.
Majluf and Wuffarden, Elena Izcue, 60.
Original: “…me sentí de pronto transportado al antiguo Perú de los incas. Cortinas, alfombras, persianas, lámparas, papeles, tapices, vidrios, muebles y toda clase de adornos eran de puro estilo incaico.” Racso, “Al margen de la vida. Arte incaico,” El Comercio, June 30, 1923.
“Me senté con cierto respeto artístico, en un hermoso sillón labrado con temas ornamentales sacados de los huacos. La luz de la lámpara filtraba suavemente su velada claridad a través de papeles recortados con motivos de la civilización de los nazcas, iluminando la estancia con tonos misteriosos y armónicos. Permanecí en silencio largo rato, bebiendo la belleza del ambiente con mis pupilas ávidas. Era un espectáculo nuevo para mí. Salones con huacos, fachadas de casas con ornamentos incaicos se encuentran en Lima; pero jamás me había sido dable contemplar la reencarnación del espíritu incaico en la totalidad de un menaje tan bello.” Racso, n.p. While Racso might be overstating somewhat the ubiquity of architectural façades bearing ancient designs, they were relatively common in this period. In addition to the Víctor Larco Museum and the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, already mentioned, we could add the private home of the famed archaeologist Julio C. Tello, designed by the architect Eduardo Rivero Tremouille.
For a discussion of the format and circulation of Variedades, see Maria Chiara D’Argenio, “A Picturesque Modernity in 1920s Peru and Argentina: Ruins, Cuzco, and Americanism in the Photographic Reportages of Variedades and Plus Ultra,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 26, no. 2 (2017): 223.
José Otero, “Informaciones de arte. Nuevo estilo decorativo—artes suntuarias,” Variedades 803 (July 21, 1923): 1869.
Otero, “Informaciones de arte,” 1868–69.
They could have inherited if, following common practice, their father had opportunely recognized them in his will. On this point, see Gonzalo Portocarrero, “Religión, familia, riqueza, y muerte en la élite económica,” in Mundos interiores: Lima 1850–1950, ed. Aldo Panfichi and Gonzalo Portocarrero (Lima: Universidad del Pacífico, 1995), 105.
David S. Parker, “White-collar Lima, 1910–1929: Commercial Employees and the Rise of the Peruvian Middle Class,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 72, no. 1 (February 1992): 54. These social conventions, it goes without saying, were not uniquely Peruvian: the collective understanding of who belongs and who does not belong to the elite always involves, irrespective of time and place, variables other than bare economic power.
Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 254.
Benjamin Orlove, ed., The Allure of the Foreign: Imported Goods in Postcolonial Latin America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 54. Half jokingly, an article from 1926 published in a Lima newspaper suggested that local manufacturers should produce forged copies of foreign labels to make their goods more marketable. See David S. Parker, The Idea of the Middle Class: White-Collar Workers and Peruvian Society, 1900–1950 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 18.
Aurora Gómez-Galvarriato and Graciela Márquez Colín, “Industrialization and Growth in Peru and Mexico, 1870–1910,” in The Spread of Modern Industry in the Periphery, ed. Kevin Hjortshøj O’Rourke and Jeffrey Gale Williamson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), online, n.p. The textile industry in this time period thus emerged as an important source of employment. Limeño manufacturers such as El Inca, Vitarte, and El Progreso, for example, employed over five hundred workers each, representing at least 5 percent of the total labor force in the city. See Manuel Burga and Alberto Flores Galindo, Apogeo y crisis de la república aristocrática: oligarquía, aprismo y comunismo en el Perú, 1895–1932 (Lima: Rikchay Perú, 1980), 157.
Parker, Idea of the Middle Class, 170.
Into the twentieth century, Peru remained primarily an exporter of commodities like sugar, cotton, and wool, and increasingly copper and oil as well. The manufacturing sector was weak. While in some cases the processing of commodity exports certainly requires heavy machinery, such processing did not exactly fall under the rubric of manufacturing. For an overview, see Rosemary Thorp and Geoffrey Bertram, Peru 1890–1977: Growth and Policy in an Open Economy (London: Macmillan, 1978).
See “Informaciones,” Revista de arqueología. Órgano del Museo Víctor Larco Herrera 1, no. 2 (October–December 1923): 34; José Otero, “Apuntaciones de arte. Enseñanza de arte decorativo estilo incaico por las artistas señoritas Izcue—progreso artístico en la Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes,” Variedades 823 (December 8, 1923): 3509–14.
Upon her return to Peru in 1939, Izcue seemingly endeavored to resume her earlier project of the twenties, as attested by a letter that she and her sister wrote to then President Manuel Prado (1939–45). In it, she proposed the formation of three separate state agencies that would work in close coordination: an office of ancient Peruvian art, a school of decorative arts, and an office of promotion and graphic art. In practical terms, however, Izcue would only be able to garner state support for a rather modest number of workshops on the north coast of Peru that revolved around straw weaving. Here the emphasis, it should be noted, was not on modernizing pre-Columbian motifs, but rather on preserving and modernizing Indigenous techniques. See Majluf and Wuffarden, Elena Izcue, 167; Jorge Coronado, “Vender lo andino: arqueología, diseño y mercado en la obra de Elena Izcue,” Revista de estudios hispánicos 55, no. 3 (2021): 554–55; Horacio Ramos, “The Manual Industries of Peru: indigenismo, trabajo manual y tutelaje artístico entre Lima y el Museo de Arte Moderno de Nueva York (1942–1948),” Illapa Mana Tukukuq 17 (2020): 74.
Luis Alberto Sánchez, Indianismo e indigenismo en la literatura peruana (Lima: Mosca Azul, 1981), 9.
In what follows, I use the term indigenism to refer to what in the Spanish-speaking world is known as indigenismo. Although English and US scholars have traditionally retained the Spanish word indigenismo, there is no apparent reason for that well-established convention: indigenism does not mean something entirely different from its Spanish cognate (as is the case, for example, with modernism and modernismo). In insisting on the Spanish word, moreover, English-speaking scholars have added some unnecessary connotations of exoticism to a concept that can perfectly be placed in the company of other “isms.” Significantly, in both French and German scholarship the term is used in translation.
The literature on indigenism is vast. Among some of the most significant discussions of the term’s intricacies are Henri Favre, El movimiento indigenista en América Latina (Lima: Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos, 2007); Mirko Lauer, Andes imaginarios. Discursos del indigenismo 2 (Cusco: Centro de Estudios Regionales Bartolomé de las Casas-Sur, 1997); Carlos Franco, “Impresiones del indigenismo,” in Imágenes de la sociedad peruana: la “otra” modernidad (Lima: Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Participación, 1991), 57–77; and Natalia Majluf, “El indigenismo en México y Perú: hacia una visión comparativa,” in Arte, historia e identidad en América: visiones comparativas, vol. 2, ed. Gustavo Curiel et al. (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1994), 611–28.
For discussions of Indianist literature, see Carlos Arroyo, El incaísmo peruano. El caso de Augusto Aguirre Morales (Lima: Mosca Azul, 1995); Carlos Arroyo, Nuestros años diez. La Asociación Pro-Indígena, el levantamiento de Rumi Maqui y el incaísmo modernista (Buenos Aires: Libros en Red, 2005).
See, for example, Enrique López Albújar, Cuentos andinos: vida y costumbres indígenas (Lima: Imprenta Lux, 1920), and Ventura García Calderón, La venganza del cóndor (Madrid: Mundo Latino, 1924).
Of the extant literature on Arguedas, the study that most exhaustively discusses his approach to language is Alberto Escobar, Arguedas o la utopía de la lengua (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1984).
It should be noted that Leguía was by no means the first leader to turn to the pre-Columbian past in the region’s history. During the early nineteenth century, right after the wars of independence, references to the Inca Empire became widespread throughout South America (with Argentina, of all places, as its epicenter) as a way of symbolically “undoing” the legacy of the colonial period. See Rebecca Earle, The Return of the Native: Indians and Myth-Making in Spanish America, 1810–1930 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 47–78.
On the importance of the stratigraphic method for the historical development of nationalism, see Anthony D. Smith, “Authenticity, Antiquity, and Archaeology,” Nations and Nationalism 7, no. 4 (2001): 441–49; Margarita Díaz-Andreu, A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 317–67; Bruce G. Trigger, “Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist,” Man 19, no. 3 (1984): 355–70.
For a fuller account of this discrepancy, see Ramón Joffré, El neoperuano, 68. On Tello, see Richard E. Daggett, “Julio C. Tello: An Account of His Rise to Prominence in Peruvian Archaeology,” and Richard L. Burger, “The Intellectual Legacy of Julio C. Tello,” both in The Life and Writings of Julio C. Tello: America’s First Indigenous Archaeologist, ed. Richard L. Burger (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009), 7–54 and 65–88, respectively. See also Henry Tantaleán, Peruvian Archaeology: A Critical History (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2014), 44–55.
These images based on the mates burilados first appeared in 1928, after Izcue had already left Peru for France, and thus they should not be understood as direct competitors to Izcue’s own.
See Ananda Cohen-Aponte, “Forging a Popular Art History: Indigenismo and the Art of Colonial Peru,” RES 67/68 (2016/2017): 273–89; Fernando Villegas, “El Instituto de Arte Peruano (1931–1973): José Sabogal y el mestizaje en arte,” Illapa Mana Tukukuq 3 (2006): 21–34; Kelly Carpio and María Eugenia Yllia, “Alicia y Celia Bustamante, la Peña Pancho Fierro y el arte popular,” Illapa Mana Tukukuq 3 (2006): 45–60.
“El arte popular indica que hay una forma plástica viva en el ambiente de todo el Perú y que es el arte más directo, más vivo y cuando un país tiene viviente ese ‘élan’ el país está también vivo.” “José Sabogal está en búsqueda del arte del pueblo: un momento de exaltación de las fuerzas del Perú con el gran animador del arte vernacular nacional.” José Sabogal, Obras literarias completas (Lima: Ignacio Prado Pastor, 1989), 415. Further proof of Sabogal’s disinterest in the pre-Columbian past per se comes in the form of a letter he wrote in response to an invitation, by fellow artist Antonio Espinosa Saldaña, to participate in a debate with Augusto Aguirre Morales about the pertinence of including a course on Inca art at the ENBA. To this request, Sabogal very nonchalantly responded: “I would gladly give my opinion about the interesting debate that you and Mr. Aguirre Morales held in El Comercio; but I know nothing about archaeology, and I regret it because I’m missing this opportunity to offer my ‘two cents’ on such an important topic.” (Original: “Con mucho gusto daría mi opinión sobre el interesante debate sostenido por Ud. y el Sr. Aguirre Morales en El Comercio, pero no conozco nada de arqueología y lo lamento porque pierdo esta oportunidad de contribuir con mi ‘granito de arena’ a tan importante asunto.”) José Sabogal to Antonio Espinosa Saldaña, June 25, 1930, archival document.
The entire sentence reads: “Los indigenistas revolucionarios, en lugar de un platónico amor al pasado incaico, manifiestan una activa y concreta solidaridad con el indio de hoy.” José Carlos Mariátegui, “Nacionalismo y vanguardia,” in Peruanicemos al Perú (1925; repr., Lima: Biblioteca Amauta, 1972), 74. For a historical analysis of the contradictory views of Incas and Indians in Peru, see Cecilia Méndez, “Incas Sí, Indios No: Notes on Peruvian Creole Nationalism and its Contemporary Crisis,” Journal of Latin American Studies 28, no. 1 (February 1996): 197–225.
Famously, PromPerú, the Peruvian agency for the promotion of exportation and tourism, has quite successfully “branded” the country abroad with a logo based on the Nasca lines. For a critical account, see Gisela Cánepa, “Nation Branding: The Re-foundation of Community, Citizenship and the State in the Context of Neoliberalism in Peru,” Medien Journal 3: 7–18.
George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003). See also Olaf Kaltmeir and Mario Rufer, eds., Entangled Heritages: Postcolonial Perspectives on the Uses of the Past in Latin America (New York: Routledge, 2017). As regards this last point, moreover, it is worth noting that the reverential treatment of culture, tradition, and the past as sources of collective identity is not as old or “natural” as commonly believed. In fact, it is a relatively recent phenomenon closely linked to the global rise during the mid-nineteenth century of the nation state as the preeminent model for structuring, managing, and legitimizing the government of a given territory. See E. J. Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).
“Amiguito lector: El Perú tiene una historia muy hermosa y es uno de los países más ricos de la tierra en los tres reinos de la Naturaleza. Desde tiempos muy remotos el Perú fue grande y poderoso, y el Imperio de nuestros antepasados dominó en este Continente y tuvo grandes guerreros y artistas. El Perú fue grande y poderoso, puede volver a serlo cuando tú lo quieras, por la obra de tu corazón, de tus brazos y de tu cerebro.” Elena Izcue, El arte peruano en la escuela II (Paris: Editorial Excelsior, 1929), 3.
“Habituando a los niños, desde su ingreso a la Escuela, a tratar y encariñarse con motivos genuinamente peruanos, creemos que se puede despertar en ellos el amor a las cosas nacionales y una curiosidad cariñosa por las cosas del pasado, capaz de fructificar con los óptimos frutos de un nacionalismo fuerte, serio y fecundo, que los maestros de hoy tienen la sagrada obligación de preparar. Invocamos los sentimientos patrióticos del Maestro, para cooperar con el propósito de inculcar a sus alumnos el amor al dibujo peruano, inspirándoles, con su palabra elocuente y sugestiva, todo el orgullo con que los peruanos debemos amar las cosas que forman parte de nuestro más antiguo y admirable patrimonio artístico.” Izcue, El arte peruano en la escuela II, 2.