Andean Textiles and Modern Art

The Cliché of Indigenous Art as “Exotic”

A conversation with Elvira Espejo, director of the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore of Bolivia, about Andean textile art, the Bauhaus and Anni Albers – and about the biased perspective of many museums.

C&AL: In the 1919 manifesto of the Bauhaus School, Walter Gropius writes: “Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to the crafts!”. How do you understand this idea today?

EE: The modern artist redirected his inspiration by drawing the path from craftsmanship towards art. In Europe, art was first created by artisans, then by artists. Only recently do other lines begin to form in the pattern. The traditional hierarchy has created conflicts in, for example, how museums compose from these lines. The way in which the fabrics are exhibited as if they were paintings, without recognizing that the reading of the textile is on the obverse and the reverse. The hierarchy will always exist, because essentially, it is also a monetary issue, not merely a social one.

In order for this to not affect the possible approximations, I think we need to look deeper into the science and technology that form the teacher. Moreover, it is interesting to analyze how ancient civilizations influenced artists, and I think that today the same thing is happening with contemporary art. There is a lot of interpretation and reappropriation. From time to time however, we continues to fall into the cliché of regarding folklorical art as something exotic. The question is in what and how it is understood, but also in the ways in which processes are systematized. Sometimes, the only intention is make the eye burst upon gazing at the artwork.

C&AL: Textile art is a living art. How is weaving done in the communities today?

EE: While there are those who claim that the ancient techniques are maintained completely, it is not. In terms of iconography, textile art is dynamic. We can see motifs from flora and fauna that have been around for centuries, but also contemporary elements, such as footballers or airplanes. In technical terms, I have more than a thousand replicas, to see exactly how certain technical characteristics have been transformed or have disappeared altogether. Some fabrics are very complex, works of art as well as legacies of science and technology that constitute the knowledge and profound education of a community. Many of these works never left the community. Art has not yet reflected on it. The academic structure maintains that education emanates from the West to America; this structure needs to be dispelled. I am proud to be aware that reality is not like that. In the art of the communities of these archaeological regions we possess something complex. The bad thing is that we are not documenting in that sense and it is on us as as young people to work even harder.

Interview by Mary Carmen Molina Ergueta. She is a Bolivian critic and essayist.

Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen.