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In this sarcastic article the ethnohistorian José Felipe Valencia-Arenas replies to the arguments expressed by the members of the ASPAP (Asociación Peruana de Artistas Plásticos) [Peruvian Association of Visual Artists], who disagreed with the decision to award the 1975 National Culture Prize to the Andean altarpiece artist Joaquín López Antay. The author questions the basis for their dismissal of the creativity of the so-called “artisans” when their own works rely on pre-Hispanic formal and thematic elements: “whether the works are abstract or figurative, we can find inspiration in ancient Peru or the Quechua people without necessarily being Quechua ourselves.” According to Valencia-Arenas, the group’s views are contradicted by artists from peasant and/or working class backgrounds who—though not strictly creators—work freely, unencumbered by the standards imposed by the market and the Western art system. He also notes the “unique” nature of López Antay’s altarpieces, whose artistic merit can surely be acknowledged now that (in Western societies and “happily now in Peru as well”) the parameters applied to the concept of “art” are no longer as rigid as they once were.
In this article the Peruvian ethnohistorian José Felipe Valencia-Arenas refers to works by artists (whom he does not name), such as Milner Cajahuaringa (b. 1932), who adamantly disagreed with the decision to award the prize to López Antay despite the fact that their own paintings relied on pre-Columbian forms. This sort of contradictory attitude has been common throughout the history of Peruvian art; paradoxically, one could acknowledge the pre-Hispanic past but not the contemporary peasant. This article was included in a selection of documents that were considered representative of the debate sparked by the jury’s decision in this case, in the 3rd issue of Guamangensis. Revista de la Universidad Nacional de [San Cristóbal de] Huamanga, 1997.
An announcement on December 26, 1975 confirmed that the National Culture Prizes (for the 1973–74 biennium) had been awarded by the Peruvian government through the Instituto Nacional de Cultura to honor the greatest contributions to the development of Peruvian culture. The jury’s decision in the art category (which had traditionally included painting, sculpture, music, and architecture) ignited one of the most heated debates in the history of Peruvian art. The ensuing controversy underscored simmering tensions and suspicions regarding the cultural policies of the revolutionary government of the armed forces led by General Juan Velasco Alvarado (1968–75). This administration claimed to be committed to a progressive agenda, a claim supported mainly by the Agrarian Reform of 1969 which was accompanied by the government’s enthusiastic attempt to glorify the image of the peasant population and lifestyle at the expense of other forms of cultural expression that were considered more “Western.” On this occasion the prize was awarded to Joaquín López Antay (1897–1981), who was chosen over well-known visual artists such as Carlos Quízpez Asín (1900–83) and Teodoro Núñez Ureta (1912–88) and the German-born academic musician Rodolfo Holzmann (1910–92).
[Regarding this conflict, see the following articles in the ICAA digital archive: by Alfonso Castrillón, Leslie Lee, and Carlos Bernasconi “Fundamentación para el dictamen por mayoría simple a favor del artista popular Joaquín López Antay” (doc. no. 1135896); by Alfonso Bermúdez “Premio a López Antay suscita controversias. Unos: consagración del arte popular. Otros: una cosa es arte y otra artesanía” (doc. no. 1135879); by Francisco Abril de Vivero, Luis Cossio Marino, and Alberto Dávila “Artistas plásticos cuestionan premio” (doc. no. 1135960); and (anonymous) “‘No todos nos quieren ni en Lima ni en Ayacucho’: así comentó sobre cuestionamiento a premio” (doc. no. 1135930)].