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The author, Augusto Aguirre Morales, (who was selected by the ENBA to teach the controversial course) defends the existence of “Incan art,” using the examples conserved in museums and the testimonials of historians. He asserts that it was the quintessence of art in previous cultures, which was appropriated and systematized by the Incans during the reign of Huayna Cápac. He believes that its study should be of great interest to artists because it would permit them to make use of the pre-Hispanic ornamental motifs or to recreate scenes from that era. He also states that the sheer demand for the subject and its decorative characteristics justify a course at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes. In his opinion, the evident artistic value of pre-Hispanic art constitutes a “racial legacy” that should be taught, in spite of the disinterest in creating beauty that Espinosa attributes to its makers. He defends the pintura de indios [painting by natives] because it offers “a spiritual indication of our future life as westernized men, but one that carries our own stamp.”


This document is a reply by Peruvian writer Augusto Aguirre Morales to the open letter written by painter and critic Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, published on May 25, 1930.


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 proposal 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 Saldana 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 their origins 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