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


Document first page thumbnail

This is a letter that was sent by José Sabogal in response to his colleague, Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, who requested his opinion on the polemics surrounding the course on “Inca Art” that was being offered at the ENBA (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Lima, the capital of Peru. The indigenous artist had exempted himself from commenting on the subject stating, “I know nothing about archaeology”. Therefore, he lamented not being able to “contribute with ‘a little grain of sand” to such an important issue.


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 indigenism.

[Please refer also to the following letter in the ICAA digital archive: “Lima, a Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, 10 de junio de 1930” by Héctor Velarde (doc. no. 1143602) and the text “Inauguración de las clases de arte incaico en la Esc. de Bellas Artes: asistirá el Ministro de Instrucción” (doc. no. 1143505)].

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of Isabel Maria, Ana Bozena and Maria Jadwiga Sabogal Dunin Borkowski, Lima, Peru