Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art Home


Document first page thumbnail

This essay is on the newspaper add announcing the commencement of the Inca Art courses and studies at the ENBA (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Lima by the Peruvian writer Augusto Aguirre Morales. The studies, a program that was fully transcribed, would encompass certain clarifications about the origins of these arts, their social function, and the “role they would play in the evolution of their villages.” The basis of this study on "Inca" Art were under these determined clarifications and their correct utilization in modern life, as this was considered possible, per Morales, due to the “undeniable superiority of our vernacular tradition.” Much of the course was intended to address various aspects on the history of the Inca Empire, its influence on the artistic manifestations in their respective villages, and underscore how “an artist should take advantage of this rich spring of archaeological information.” The program concludes with the comparative studies between the Incas, the Egyptians and some villages from ancient Orient.


In April of 1930 and within a prevailing nationalistic climate within the intellectual circles in Peru, the ENBA (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Lima started a course on “Inca Art.” The program was entrusted to Augusto Aguirre Morales, a writer known for writing El pueblo del Sol, a novel published in 1924 and 1927 on a recreation that idealized the Tahuantinsuyo life style or the empire of the Incas. Although the title and program revealed a more literary approach to the subject, the course sought to reference an established pre-Columbian legacy in promoting the configuration of a “national art”. However, its relevance to formally train artists was confronted by a revival of the ornamental characteristics of Pre-Hispanic Hispanic appropriations logic. Regarding this line of thought, the artist Antonino Espinosa Saldaña (1893–1969) questioned not only the generalization of title given to the course and program but also the transcendence of pre-Columbian art and its influence on the “Fine Arts” of Peru in seeking to define the idea of national identity in western terms. Espinosa directed these criticisms against those who equated “the indigenous” culture (past or current) with “the Peruvian.” Replicas, such as those by Augusto Aguirre, identified the “indigenous” as the only “heredity” capable of configuring an “Indo-American” identity. The debate not only prolonged with this published article written by Espinosa, but also in the press by means of published letters sent by intellectuals, among them Héctor Velarde and Mariano Ibérico. Apart from the appropriate debate on the visual arts, was the poignant silence of José Sabogal revealing his prioritizing his ethnographic interest in Peruvian indiginism.

[Please refer to the following letters in the ICAA digital archive: “Lima, a Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, 10 de junio de 1930” by Héctor Velarde (doc. no. 1143602) and “Lima a Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, 25 de junio de 1930” by José Sabogal (doc. no. 1143586)].

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru