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Painter Antonino Espinosa opens this letter questioning the pertinence of the “Arte incaico” [Incan Art] course at the ENBA—to be offered by writer Augusto Aguirre, author of the novel El pueblo del sol [The People of the Sun]—arguing that the significant pre-Hispanic arts preceded the Incan empire. Moreover, he states that due to their ornamental character, the study of Incan art lacks importance for artists who are not focused on decoration. Although he praises pre-Columbian ceramics and textiles, he points out that they were the product “of a unique spirit that did not seek to create beauty, but were instead produced for what was required to represent ideas, sentiments, and customs;” therefore he makes the argument that they are only useful for their ornamentation. As the author of the letter, Espinosa rejects the “Incan” architectural revival; in his opinion, it constitutes “a bothersome mass of incomprehensible monsters that express nothing.” The author questions the emphasis on “indigenous art” because it has been misrepresented as “a style of the people” and it is no more than decontextualized artificial imitation.


This is an open letter written by painter Antonino Espinosa Saldaña in response to the creation of an “Incan Art” course at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Arte de Lima, to be offered by writer Augusto Aguirre Morales.


By defining the idea of national identity in western terms, Espinosa directed his criticism against those who equated “the indigenous” (past or current) with “Peruvian identity.” The responses (such as that by Augusto Aguirre) had identified the indigenous past as a unique “inheritance” that could shape an “Indo-American” identity. The debate played out not only in the essay written by Espinosa, but also in the press through letters written by intellectuals (Héctor Velarde and Mariano Ibérico, among others). Beyond the artistic debate, José Sabogal’s eloquent silence revealed the mostly ethnographic interest of indigenism.


At the beginning of the 1930s, a new arts group arose in Lima: Los Duendes, a group of painters who embraced a symbolism with roots in literature that incorporated art deco elements, and whose aesthetic philosophy was founded as an alternative to the prevailing indigenous art trend. Brought together around poet José María Eguren (1874–1942), the first and only collective exhibition of these “independent Peruvians” was held in June 1931. Antonino Espinosa Saldaña was the only member of the group who sustained an artistic career, although he did not participate in the show. Perhaps because of this, his work generated a brief exchange of opinions within the local scene on the elusive categorization of this type of proposal. In December 1933, Espinosa exhibited a collection of ceramics and tempera paintings, which included a pictorial interpretation (akin to abstraction) of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. With titles such as El tiempo [Time] and La inteligencia [Intelligence], the works claimed an allegorical density in a genre and style considered “decorative.” Critic Carlos Raygada pointed out this contradiction and questioned the relevance of the timid experimentalism present in some of his “movement” studies. The as yet unidentified F. H. Dursself praised the dynamism of these works, affirming the origins of their role within a new avant-garde art.


[For further reading, see the following texts in the ICAA digital archive: by Antonino Espinosa Saldaña “A propósito del curso de ‘arte incaico’ en la Escuela de Bellas Artes” (doc. no. 1143553); and by Augusto Aguirre Morales “A propósito del curso de ‘arte incaico’ en la Escuela de Bellas Artes” (doc. no. 1143570)].

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of Antonio Espinoza Laña, Lima, Peru