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Climbing The Andes With The DMA
by Jerome Weeks 15 May 2015

Today, the Dallas Museum of Art opens its first exhibition from its extensive collection of ancient South American art. The show is called Inca: Conquests of the Andes, and KERA’s Jerome Weeks checked out the more than 120 objects – from pre-Columbian gold cups to Spanish-influenced weavings.

Tunic with checkerboard pattern and stepped yoke_1995.32.McD

Tunic from Peru, Andean highlands, Inca (Inka) culture, camelid fiber, A.D. 1400–1540. Photo: courtesy of the DMA


Inca: Conquests of the Andes is curator Kimberly Jones’ first show at the DMA. She’s officially the Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of Arts of the Americas at the museum  — a young archaeologist from UT-Austin who’s done extensive fieldwork in Peru. I asked Jones to select a single representative piece from the exhibition, a signature work. Easy, she said. Jones picked one that is truly Incan – woven from the hair of llamas or alpacas.

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Kimberly Jones during the press preview at the DMA. Photo: Jerome Weeks

“It is a beautifully well-preserved example of an Inca tunic or shirt,” she says, “worn by probably a male, elite official. The design is simple, bold, geometric with rich colors.”

The tunic is one of the DMA’s prizes – one of the finest such garments outside of Peru. It’s a classic Inca design with its checkerboard pattern and deep-red mantle, but it looks as stunning and modern as an abstract painting — a Mondrian or a Malevich. For obvious reasons, not many examples survive, but the ones that do reveal the Incan facility with textiles — they created fabrics with more than 600 threads per inch — was not matched until the Industrial Revolution.

Jones’ choice is actually a little ironic. That’s because much of the exhibition shows how the different cultures in the Andes Mountains weren’t pure, they actually we’re threaded together. The history of the area wasn’t simply the Incas vs. the Spanish. That’s why the exhibition’s title is plural, Conquests of the Andes.

Jones points out the artworks on display extend back a thousand years, back before the Incas conquered the other societies in the area. Conquered them but also absorbed them, were changed by them – through their ceramic work, their metal work, their clothing. In fact, the Inca Empire itself lasted barely a hundred years before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.

“The objects themselves really reflect this convergence of cultures,” says Jones. Meaning, the process was “not pure acquiescence to some imperial imposition, it’s not pure resistance either. There’s a beautiful blending.”

On the other hand, the DMA show also includes fat ingots from the Atocha, ingots melted down from Inca silver. The Atocha is the famous Spanish treasure ship that sank off the Florida Keys and was discovered in 1985. Sometimes armies do strip-mine another culture. Conquests of the Andes displays these rich layers of influence — and invasion.

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