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In this interview the painter Milner Cajahuaringa expresses his profound disagreement with the decision to award the 1975 National Culture Prize for art to the Andean altarpiece artist Joaquín López Antay. Quoting from the dictionary of the Real Academia Española [Royal Spanish Academy], Cajahuaringa claims that the word ‘art’ refers exclusively to painting, sculpture, music, and architecture, “period,” whereas the word ‘handcraft’ refers to a “merely mechanical” trade. He states that the decision to award the prize to the altarpiece artist—at the expense of academically trained painters—is “an example of the increasing restriction and marginalization of the visual arts” by the INC (Instituto Nacional de Cultura). This decision, in his opinion, reflects “a mood of cultural demagoguery championed by frustrated dilettantes and pseudo-intellectuals.” While not doubting “the well-intentioned objectives of the Revolutionary Government,” the painter describes the INC’s position as “a form of cultural neocolonialism on the march that rewards the handcrafts endorsed by the Old World,” referring to the colonial roots of altarpiece art. Cajahuaringa also discusses the conflicts and new policies at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes, which he thinks is at risk of being “disappeared” or transformed into an arts and trades institute. In spite of everything he still thinks it is a good time for art: “The effort required of Peruvian painters is one of titanic proportions,” he concludes, “but we are Indian enough to bear the load.”


This document reflects the position taken by one of the most stubborn critics of the decision to award the art prize to López Antay: Milner Cajahuaringa (b. 1932) who, ironically was of Indian descent. The article reveals the tension that had built up between the opposition group and the INC (Instituto Nacional de Cultura), the institute that was considered to be dismissive of what was known as “cultured” art.


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)].

Gabriela Germaná Roquez
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru