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Interview with the Curators of the Exhibition Principio Potosí / Das Potosí-Prinzip / The Potosí Principle on the Mobility of Colonial Baroque Paintings between Europe and the Americas.

by [Artefakte // anti-humboldt]
18 Nov 2013 • Comment (1) • Print
Posted: Afterlives [11] | Commons

Alice Creischer, Andreas Siekmann, Max Jorge Hinderer in conversation with Artefakte//anti-humboldt

Artefakte//anti-humboldt: The “Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums”[1] of 2002, signed by 19 major museums in Europe and the United States, argued that works acquired through purchase, as gifts, or as a disbursement have, because of their long-standing presence in the various museums, now become their property. With this declaration in mind, and in the light of the Principio Potosí exhibition project, which you curated, we arrived at the idea of talking to you about the meaning of the mobilisation of artworks. It seemed to us that one of the motifs that runs through Principio Potosí is to again put in motion oil paintings that were originally created and sited in the space of colonial encounters and movements between Spain or Europe, and the Latinas or New World.

We would suggest beginning with the works themselves that is the pictures: What do they mean for you in an historical sense, what do you project onto them in your exhibition?

In your exhibition guide, you explain that the pictures that you exhibit–predominantly oil paintings from the 16th to the 18th century–were initially shipped from Europe to America, to the Spanish colonies, where they provided material for a new form of image production. You write: when we show some of these pictures here (in the exhibition) they attest to the fact that cultural hegemony is not a symbolic concept, but is, in fact, linked to power and violence. Could you perhaps expand a little on how this influenced your selection process, and what it means to send these witnesses of such power and violence on a journey once more?

Andreas Siekmann: Well, it was only when we actually began the concrete task of organising the exhibition that we realised that power, once again, has a role to play. We never thought that the question of the mobility of images would be so intimately connected with forms of state and cultural authority–and connected in quite a literal sense with complex diplomatic procedures. Since curators often tend to be at the periphery of such diplomatic procedures, we began to explore the reasons why some pictures never arrive. In fact this issue is rarely if ever addressed, since exhibitions tend to give the impression that everything can be loaned out. However, this “cultural diplomacy” also produced some very positive results in some pictures, for example, were restored by a section of the Ministry of Culture in La Paz, and we also collaborated with the restoration department of the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Max Jorge Hinderer: Bolivian oil paintings had already been seen in an exhibition context in Europe and the United States, as well as in other Latin American countries outside of Bolivia; but never before has such an ensemble of Bolivian pictures, compiled from various international museums, been exhibited in Bolivia as a thematic whole. And I think here–in relation to the mobility of the paintings–is where our project has achieved something of particular historical interest. However, this was also the point at which power interests–especially in relation to the bicentennial celebrations[2]–became involved. When the pictures arrived back from Europe, there were reports in the Bolivian press every day; they really followed the crates every step of the way because this was obviously such an important issue.

Artefakte: Could you briefly explain what the term “Bolivian pictures” actually means?

Hinderer: Well, first of all, it simply refers to pictures that belong to the Bolivian state–and that means that they belong to the national cultural heritage of Bolivia, and as such have already undergone a process of historical evaluation.

Siekmann: …one could see this as a nationalisation of the pictures–within the identity of a white Bolivian upper-class, for instance, which for the last two hundred years has regarded itself as representing the country of Bolivia. Thus, an exhibition on “Bolivian Baroque Painting” in the Bicentenario would mirror this self-image.

Hinderer: Our perspective on the pictures follows this thesis of power and violence and we wished to call on the paintings as witnesses. However, we wished to avoid giving them a national label–such as dealing with them as “Bolivian baroque”, for example.

Siekmann: And the selection involved a very long process of discussion and narrowing down.

Hinderer: And it was only after we had already made an initial selection that we were able to start researching properly, which in turn brought to light quite a lot of stories behind the pictures.

Siekmann: This colonial image production was actually a process of mass production stemming from the Counter-Reformation, which opposed ‘conquest by word’ with a concrete ‘conquest by image’ in a type of pictorial turn. Similar to what happened in Flanders and other European centres of painting of the 17th century, there were also painters’ guilds in South America–in Cisco for example–which produced paintings on a scale and volume similar to that of a manufactory.

This apparently inflationary and “industrial” image production provided the starting point for our approach to the pictures in Principio Potosí. European art history excludes colonial baroque painting, perhaps because of a tendency to denigrate it as merely cheap copies of original paintings by European court artists. Yet both European and South American artists used the same templates taken from compendia of engravings, which at that time circulated in the colonies as printed books in runs of up to 40,000 copies–arriving in the new world by ship from Antwerp. After all, this image production was also supposed to conquer a whole new continent. Indeed, you could go so far as to argue that this was the first industrial accumulation process in relation to image production–an accumulation process that took place simultaneously with the exploitation of the gold and silver resources.

Hinderer: It was from within this image-production apparatus, this avalanche of images representing a form of ideological warfare, that we selected individual works. Quite a few of the examples we selected are anonymous works. Since it was only in the 18th century that well known names such as Melchor Pérez de Holgué, regarded as the Bolivian Raffael, and later his students Caspar Miguel Berrío or Luis Niño begin to emerge. This type of individualised workshop production, along with the associated bohemian myths, originated here somewhat later than in Europe–and was also linked to different connotations. Luis Niño, for example, was known as a drinker. On the one hand, he was celebrated as the most famous painter in Potosí, providing a liberal discourse with a bohemian artist figure. However, cast as a drunken Indian who refused to work properly, the figure of Niño was well suited to the conservative discourse of the Spanish-born upper class with its culture of racism and associated connotations.

Alice Creischer: But I wish to again emphasise that this anonymous production in manufactories is not a specifically South American phenomenon, and that it is exactly this simultaneity with what was going on in Europe which interests us.

Siekmann: I would like to mention a third – and perhaps final – aspect in relation to the issue of power and violence, which concerns the relationship between image production and forced labour. It was the very extensive research on the indigenous history of a place called Jesus de Machaca which led us to this.[3] The former indigenous nobility had displayed its piety and its wealth both with and through images. This new post-aristocratic commercial oligarchy became rich through trade in coca and wine in centres such as Potosí. But the colonial government also employed this former aristocratic class to determine the quota for the different localities, i.e. the percentage of forced labour that would have to be sent to the mines of Potosí. However, church painters and sculptors were exempt from this mita-work–the forced labour in the mines.

Hinderer: To return to the quote about power and violence: our intention in this exhibition was not to present the pictures as auratic works suitable for debate, but rather to focus on the context in which the pictures were produced and circulated. Which is why we went to the lengths of placing an economic principle, the Potosí Principle, at the centre of the exhibition. This concerns a new arrangement of work and production and how it relates to ideology and the reproduction of labour power. This in turn affects the linkages between forced labour and so-called ‘free’ wage-labour, the human rights situation, and the production of cultural hegemony. We also believe that, based on their structure, similar arrangements of governmental technologies can be recognised in different places and in different historical constellations. And so we integrated places such as today’s Dubai, Moscow, London and Beijing… locations where power, violence, and the economic context are on the agenda when art is being made. Thus, the exhibition contains not only numerous temporal but also many geographical jumps to help illustrate the fundamental patterns underlying the Potosí Principle.

Fig. 1: Juan Ramos: “Triunfo del Nombre de Jesú (Triunfu de la Eucaristía)”, ca. 1700, Church of Jesú de Machaca, Departamento de La Paz.

Artefakte: In a second step, we would now like to discuss some concrete visual examples from the exhibition, and perhaps expand on some aspects relating to the question of circulation, and the possibility or impossibility of moving individual artefacts within the colonial, and now the current–post-colonial–space. The rather large number of colonial pictures[4] in the exhibition seems to suggest that it was not a question of an illustrative testimony but that for you the individual pictures were important in their own right. Your exhibition guide refers to shifts in meaning that occur in the course of image importation and circulation. In reference to the painting entitled “Triunfo del Nombre de Jesú (Triunfu de la Eucaristía)” by Juan Ramos, ca. 1700 from the municipality of Jesú de Machaca, Departamento de La Paz, you write in your exhibition guide: “This chariot (…) represents a whole hierarchy of prophets and Church Fathers (…), contaminated over and over by both indigenous motifs and humanist ideas.” With recourse to the Renaissance clearly in evidence, one can observe the emergence of a completely new hybrid, where something seems to have gone awry with the images intended function as expressions and mediators of colonial power. We can see this, for example, in the portrayals of acts of resistance, or in the misunderstandings in the interpretation of images taken from compendia–misunderstandings that may have proven productive in the sense that they contradicted the power relations intended by the colonial power.

Artefakte: Does your exhibition also present these images because they are more than just a visual record of the violence to which they testify? The pictures also represent a surplus or excess, otherwise you wouldn’t really need to consider them individually…

Alice Creischer: History has no doubt witnessed a wealth of pictorial turns. In the case that is of interest to us here, what happened is that the conflict between the Reformation and Catholicism was transferred to a territory that initially had nothing to do with it. However, this conflict became extremely virulent in relation to the production of images. The Reformation discovered writing, which bore an incredible emancipatory potential. In Europe, the ability to interpret the Bible on one’s own coalesced with numerous social movements and uprisings that strove to manifest the ethos of justice contained in the Bible as a social utopia. Catholicism mobilised the strength and the power of images to counteract this claim to interpret the Bible for oneself. But it also had to defend itself against massive accusations, such as charges that Catholic Renaissance painting in particular involved pagan subject matter, that it depicted naked figures, or that that the belief in the miraculous power of images (e.g. weeping Madonnas, or wounds that bled) supported animistic beliefs. As a consequence, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) issued a decree detailing how the new pictures of the Counter-Reformation should be painted. So the humanistic image content that we can see in South America is derived from the first generation of pictures that were shipped over, that is, before the Council. Thus, there is a temporal shift in respect of humanist image content. The term hybrid referred to in your question often appears in post-colonial interpretations. Through a meticulous tracing and dissecting of the image content, the Bolivian art historian Teresa Gisbert has been able to show that the hybrid is not necessarily an Indigenous/European one, but in some cases reflects an incredibly long sequence of historical conflicts and contexts.[5]

Hinderer: In our view, Teresa Gisbert prepares the ground for a materialist art history, which Alice describes so wonderfully in the catalogue. So it is possible that signs which don’t really belong together, and which elsewhere are idealised as syncretism, can now be seen to thematise the production conditions themselves…

Creischer: You are referring to the article by Teresa Gisbert about painting in Cuzco and the refusal of the central perspective.[6] Gisbert’s text is based on research on contracts for commissions and deliveries of paintings that can be found in the archives in Cuzco. Using sources such as the painters’ guild in Cuzco, they provide evidence that a large proportion of the craftsmen in this trade association were indigenous craftsmen, and that they were involved in disputes regarding pay and employment conditions. Gisbert comes to the conclusion that these labour disputes, and the superior number of indigenous artists in Cuzco, led to their refusal to take the guild exams mandated by the Royal Audience in Lima, which may ultimately have led to a split in the painting guilds. Following Gisbert, we can see the formal characteristics of colonial painting, such as the absence of or very shallow perspective, the seriality of the brocades and motifs and so on, as evidence of the industrialisation and division of labour of artistic work processes; alternately, however, they may also be seen as evidence of indigenous and guild dissidence.

Artefakte: I would like to return to the question of what happens when the images begin to move again. Can you describe to what extent the images suddenly appeared different on the boundary between state and state, or institution and institution; but also at the boundary between a particular community and the State or the Church. Do you think that what happened at these interfaces during the transport of the pictures to some extent reflects colonial time and colonial violence?

Creischer: Many of the pictures we requested that are held by institutions arrived; none, however, arrived from the communities. Given the opportunity to negotiate with communities ourselves, we might have had a chance to represent our ideas personally. But the communities themselves have been fetishised – perhaps in much the same way as ethnologists fetishise their sources. We barely had the opportunity to speak ourselves, or respond directly to the many legitimate grievances raised: What is this Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, after all? After the exhibition, how many paintings will disappear into the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz, never to return? The representative character ascribed to the Principio Potosí, which became particularly evident in the conduct of loan negotiations, made us apprehensive as to how our project as a whole would be represented.

Siekmann: But I believe your question is also aimed at the constitutional changes that have taken place under the government of Evo Morales.

Hinderer: In 2007, the new constituent assembly in Bolivia decided that a community – that is an ‘original’ indigenous community, which in turn can be traced back to a centuries-old exchange community (Allyu) – has a quasi-legal right to function as an autonomous economic and social community, and therefore without interference from federal government. This also applies to the judicial system; so, for example, although there is no death penalty in today’s Bolivia, in principle these communities may carry out the death penalty where their local traditions sanction it. And the federal government can’t intervene. The main problem with these regulations is that the Allyu communities emerged as a survival strategy for Andean communities, and thus for what were essentially economic reasons. In Altiplano, at 4,000 metres, they have evolved as complex systems of exchange and rotation, which, through a peaceful division of labour, have combined the various subsistence economies of small communities into larger economic unit. As part of the indigenous-socialist revolution under the Evo Morales government, such Allyus have now become culturally essentialised as indigenous communities where alienated labour simply cannot exist, as this would contradict the ideological underpinning of ‘Indigenous’. In the Principio Potosí exhibition catalogue, the anarcho-feminist activist and artist Maria Galindo explains how this supposed defence of local traditions actually involves the reintroduction of patriarchal hierarchies through the back-door, but now not only culturally legitimised but explicitly protected in law. Interestingly, about 80 % of the Christian population in the Bolivian highlands have, in the wake of the so-called ‘cultural revolution’, abandoned the Catholic Church and switched their allegiance to new evangelistic fundamentalist churches. They have not however relinquished their indigenous identity, so that, through the process of self-empowerment, they have gained the legal right to seize churches (including paintings and other artefacts) which were originally commissioned by their own caciques.[7] In cases where the Catholic Church wishes to have a picture returned, it is not unusual for the indigenous community to refuse to hand it over. We experienced this ourselves in Potosí with a picture in the community of San Pedro. The relationship between the indigenous communities and the Ministry of Culture, or the museums, is a little better than with the Catholic Church; yet there is still a climate of–often justified–mistrust. Moreover, for many small Andean communities, the National Museum in La Paz is just about as far away as the National Museum in Madrid. In their view both places, i.e. both museums, primarily represent a threat to the pictures, and thus to their collective ownership of the pictures. The experience of many communities, even in dealings with the Bolivian National Museum, is that works are not always returned. They are placed in a museum in the capital, and then it is claimed that they constitute part of the national cultural heritage.

Artefakte: So these communities still have no real sovereignty over their cultural heritage, despite Evo Morales?

Fig. 2: Monika Baer, “Amor Divinus”, 2010, Berlin, loosely based on the painting, “Amor Divinus”, ascribed to Juan Ramos, 1703, Church of Jesú de Machaca.

Fig. 3: Template for “Amor Divinus”, in: Pia desideria emblematis, elegiis et affectibus SS.: Patrum illustrate, Hermanus Hugo, 1628, K.U. Leuven.

Fig. 4: Probably Juan Ramos: “Amor Divinus”, 1703, Church of Jesú de Machaca. Photo of the “Peitschenengel”/”Whipping Angel” taken by Andreas Siekmann before it was stolen.

Hinderer: It’s even more complicated… Well, we came to Jesú de Machaca (in Departamento de La Paz) and there in the Church we saw two paintings: “Triunfo del Nombre de Jesú (Triunfu de la Eucaristía)” by Juan Ramos, and the painting we nicknamed “Whipping Angel” “Amor Divinus” (probably Juan Ramos, 1703, Church of Jesú de Machaca; copy: Monika Baer, 2010 Berlin). Jesú de Machaca is a city rich in tradition; it was an important economic centre of the very powerful Guarachi caciques, which were also major shareholders in Potosí. The key holders of the church in Jesú de Machaca finally opened it up for us so that we could take a look at everything. Using Andreas’ small camera, we took some photos of the paintings, and afterwards we made a list of the pictures we had seen and the ones we wanted to borrow. We presented this list to the Reina Sofia in Madrid, and they passed it on to the Ministry of Culture in La Paz, as well as to the various museums we were in collaboration with (such as the Museo Nacional de Arte La Paz, Museo Charcas Sucre, Casa de la Moneda Potosí, and the Museo de América Madrid). The Bolivian Ministry of Education, whose job it is to protect the national cultural heritage, first had to take custody of the pictures. As we discovered later, it was at this point that there was a break-in at the church in Jesú de Machaca. During the theft, a series of four small paintings of angels had been stolen, two of which were on our list, including the “Whipping Angel”. A short time later, we received a call from the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz, telling us that Interpol was investigating the case of the missing angels and that we were being linked to the robbery. At first we couldn’t make any sense of what was going on. It was only much later, after discussions with the people from the Ministry of Decolonisation that things began to make sense. Since we had asked him for help, and because he was interested in our project, Roberto Choque, the Vice-Minister of Decolonisation–so not the Minister of Culture–drove to Jesú de Machaca. He wanted to use his influence to encourage the community to lend the pictures. As he entered the church with the people, it was soon apparent that the picture at the centre of interest as a loan exhibit–the little angel painting–was precisely the one that had been stolen. So now the community was definitely unwilling to part with another larger painting. And then they informed the Minister of Decolonisation, who had only just become aware of the theft himself, that the Ministry of Culture had yet to make an inventory of the theft. It was only after pressure from Roberto Choque that representatives of the Ministry of Culture came to the church, but they still couldn’t determine whether a theft had in fact taken place. According to their records, there were never more than three pictures–the three that were actually still in the church, none of which had been stolen. It now transpired that four catalogue entries and the index cards for the four pictures that had been stolen were also missing from the archives of the Ministry. In fact, we had seen them ourselves only recently in La Paz, so they must have been systematically removed in order to banish any traces. Now there was no longer any evidence that these pictures had ever existed, except for the evidence of the community, and of course the low-resolution snapshots taken in poor light by Andreas. The community had no idea whether it was the gringos–meaning us–the people from the National Museum in La Paz, or perhaps someone from the Ministry of Culture, who had stolen the pictures. The Minister of Decolonisation was quite indignant about the whole thing and quite reasonably came to the conclusion that something not quite right was going on. Eventually, he was unceremoniously deposed in the wake of a conflict that arose between the Culture Ministry and the Vice-Ministry of Decolonisation–the Vice-Ministry of Decolonisation reports directly to the Minister of Culture. And with the dismissal of Roberto Choque, the investigation into the missing pictures had simply been laid to rest. For us, this story provided quite a good example of how complicated and asymmetrical the relationship between decolonisation and cultural heritage is, and how flawed the process of negotiation between these two instances can become.

Artefakte: Once again, I would like to enquire explicitly whether such conflicts over the mobility of the pictures have been productive for you–whether at the state-to-state interface, or the interface between community, state-to-state, curator team, and Reina Sofia.

Fig. 5: Melchor Pérez Holguín: Entrada del Virrey Morcillo en Potosí, 1718, Museo de América, Madrid.

Creischer: Yes, there were some very productive situations. And of course the way we worked together on the project with the artists was central to this. A good example would be the conversation between Maria Galindo and the director of the Museo de América in Madrid. Here the issue was the refusal by the Museo de América to lend a picture “Entrada del Virrey Morcillo en Potosí” by Melchor Pérez Holguín for our exhibition in the Reina Sofia, even though both institutions reside in the same city. When Maria Galindo asked whether the institution was afraid of restitution claims should the picture be shown in La Paz, the director replied that the picture was not actually Bolivian at all: since present-day Bolivia had been part of the Spanish colonial empire, the picture actually belonged to Spain.

Hinderer: And there was more. In an effort to strengthen her position, the director of the Museo de América criticised the Bolivian couriers who accompanied the transport to Spain of the pictures for the exhibition at the Museo Reina Sofia as irresponsible. She refused to allow the colonial paintings held in the museum in Madrid to be shown in Bolivia; and she expressed the view that such paintings should be left where they are–so as to prevent exposure to the dangers of decay. Pretty soon we realised that organising an exhibition for the Bicentenario would attract a quite blatant form of neo-colonial paternalism. The post/colonial interests of an institution like the Reina Sofia lay less in relativising its own claim to power, and more in actually extending that power. And it soon became obvious that the real issue was hegemony over the manner in which Latin American art is represented. The Museo Reina Sofia had being pursuing this sort of agenda for several years, primarily with respect to modernism and conceptualism; but now a wider discourse had emerged, namely the neo-colonial rhetoric of a Spanish government seemingly set on a paternalistic course towards its ex-colonies. Within Spanish institutions–be they art or ethnological museums–one consistently encounters an incredibly arrogant development-aid type of rhetoric in relation to Latin American art and culture. Nevertheless, with the help of the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores y de Cooperación (aecid) and funds that were organised through the Reina Sofia, we were able to have a number of pictures restored to a condition that allowed them be transported. From a curatorial point of view, this was the most important consideration.

Artefakte: In relation to transporting the paintings, I would also like to mention the emblematic vocabulary of the pictogrammes in the exhibition catalogue. Here, the type of label usually attached to a suitcase is a reference to air-transport…

Siekmann: Of course, we had exchange in mind, but there was also a very real connection with the suitcase. Sometimes the Reina Sofia museum itself seemed like some kind of high security complex, because (following the terrorist attack in Madrid in 2003) everyone has to pass through a scanner to get into the museum–much like at the airport on an international flight. We even had to send our model of the exhibition through the scanner at the Reina Sofia. So the photo on the cover of the catalogue reflects the situation as we experienced it. Additionally, the suitcase motif also reflects the mobility of painting and the medium of the canvas: stretching, removing, transporting, and circulating. The exhibition also had a subtitle: “How Can We Sing the Song of the Lord in an Alien Land”, a psalm from an Emblemata book entitled Pia Desideria Emblematis, published by Hermanus Hugo at the Catholic University of Leuven in 1628.

Hinderer: When we arrived with the exhibition in Bolivia, we had already experienced the situation with the Reina Sofia and with Berlin. It was the fact that the exhibition travelled to La Paz–in the context of this new form of government, this new discursive environment in Bolivia–that actually made the whole story about borrowing and mobilising the pictures really interesting, since it was only here that we began to appreciate it in all its circular complexity. At the opening in La Paz, the social democratic neo-liberal museum director from Madrid and the Marxist-Leninist Vice President of Bolivia shook hands, apparently quite satisfied with themselves. However, there was no trace of the Minister of Decolonisation–the museum in Madrid has refused to reprint the exact wording of a text by Roberto Choque, and anyway by this time the Bolivian government had already sacked him. In retrospect, I have the growing impression that these images really do stand for a kind of colonial power matrix. It’s not just a question of how the pictures were dealt with at an administrative level, or at the level of art historical interpretation. It seems to me that this violence-matrix emerges precisely at the point where contemporary art and historical painting interact, and that organising such an exhibition entails the simultaneous engagement of all these authorities and institutions.

Artefakte: Given all the difficulties, you could of course have decided simply to exhibit copies. However, it seems that it’s only when the issue of mobility is linked to the originals that the old power relationships re-merge in their contemporary guise.

Siekmann: Well, ultimately, we showed that to an extent we don’t really take the pictures that seriously. In the case of the pictures that we weren’t able to borrow, we considered very carefully, and on a case-by-case basis, how we were going to reproduce them. Some we drew one-to-one with silver point on film canvas (e.g. El Infierno, Master of Caquiaviri, 1739, Church of Caquiaviri, Dept. La Paz); while the artists taking part in the exhibition themselves adapted others. So, for example, the painting of the chariot of Jesú de Machaca was reproduced by Konstanze Schmitt, Stephan Dillemuth and the Territorio Doméstico–a domestic workers initiative –, and used as a wagon in a demonstration in Madrid (Triunfo del Nombre de Jesus Juan Ramos, Jesus von Machca 1703, Dept. La Paz/Triunfo de las Domésticas Activas, Konstanze Schmitt, Stephan Dillemuth, Territorio Doméstico Madrid, 2010).

Fig. 6: Khipus in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin Dahlem, © Andreas Siekmann and Alice Creischer, 2010.

Artefakte: This would perhaps be a good opportunity to introduce the third example of a loan exhibit, since it concerns the treatment of indigenous knowledge. It involves another institution, namely the Ethnological Museum, with all the associated representational problems and questions of how knowledge is managed and produced. Now it’s no longer a question of art, but instead concerns the Khipu, a series of knotted cords or threads, which served as an important information medium in pre-Conquest indigenous culture. So we are talking about artefacts that belonged to the knowledge formation of an administration that was brought to an end in the course of colonial conquest and the accompanying pictorial turn we have already mentioned. As far as we can gather, the Ethnological Museum in Berlin Dahlem refuses to lend Khipus for exhibition purposes.

Siekmann: What’s also important here is that the destruction of this knowledge formation clearly comes with ethnology. It was important for us to trace and reveal how the Khipus found their way into the Ethnological Museum. Out of the approximately 700 Khipus worldwide, 320[8] can be found in the Museum of Ethnology in Berlin Dahlem. These were a gift of Arthur Baessler, who acquired them in 1898 from the textile merchant Wilhelm Gretzer, along with several thousand other objects. Gretzer lived in Lima together with his wife Erna from 1873 until 1904. On their return to Germany in 1904, they brought with them a collection of approximately 300,000 archaeological objects that, in the course of the following years, they sold to the nascent ethnological museums in Berlin, Cologne, Leipzig, Göttingen, Gothenburg and Hanover. Shortly after William Gretzer brought his collections out of Peru, the Peruvian government issued a ban on the export of archaeological objects. Our request to borrow a Khipu for the exhibition was answered positively by the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, as long as it involved the stops in Madrid and Berlin. For the last stop in La Paz, the museum demanded an official confirmation from the Vice-Ministry of Culture that the Khipu would not be retained there–as restituted loot.

Creischer: We had a long debate about whether we should include the issue of these Khipus in the exhibition or not, as they are actually something completely different to Baroque paintings. The work of the artist Elvira Espejo, which engages with the Khipu technique, then became a kind of bridge for us, where at this point in the exhibition you are suddenly met with “ethnographic” objects. There were two things that were important for us at this point: firstly, to show the impossibility of borrowing these objects, and secondly, since it put the focus on the Ethnological Museum in Berlin Dahlem–which is due to move to the Humboldt Forum–to make clear that the world questioned by the Principio Potosí is not specifically Spanish-Bolivian, but is also a European, and indeed a global one.


2. In 2009 some countries in South America celebrated 200 years of “liberation” from Spanish colonial rule. [↑]

3. Roberto Choque Canqui, Xavier Albó, Correns, Esteban Ticona Alejo, Cinco Siglos de la Historia, (La Paz, 2003). [↑]

4. A total of eleven paintings from Bolivia, two from Spain, two drawings from Seville, one print from Antwerp, one watercolour series from Bolivia; five paintings did not arrive, of which one was from Madrid and four from Bolivia. [↑]

5. Teresa Gisbert, Iconografia y mitos indigenas en el arte, (La Paz, 2004). [↑]

6. Teresa Gisbert, “La conciencia de un arte proprio el la pintura virreinal andina”, in: Maria Conception Garcia Saiz, Juana Gutierrez Haces (pub.), Tradicion, Estilo o Escuela en la pintura Iberoamericana Siglos XVI – XVIII, Mexico 2004. [↑]

7. Cacique (Spanish: Cacique) is a term that refers to the political authorities of the indigenous communities created by the Spanish and Portuguese colonial powers. Caciques are local authorities designated by the Crown and who in principle act in the colonial interest. The appointment of these authorities is basically free from traditional or established hierarchies; however, the Cacique dynasties often emerged from traditional structures of authority Thus, Caciquism could be passed down within families. Nevertheless, some of the famous indigenous leaders of wars of liberation against the Spanish and/or elites of Spanish descent were themselves caciques or descendants of famous caciques – such as Tupac Amaru II and Tomás Katari, who fought for the political rights of their people. [↑]

8. According to a different enumeration, the number is estimated at 380. [↑]

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Artefakte//anti-humboldt is a Berlin based group of artists and scholars - Lotte Arndt (until 2009), Brigitta Kuster, Regina Sarreiter, Dierk Schmidt, Elsa de Seynes - that was founded in 2008 as part of the event Der Anti- Humboldt ( against the re-construction of the Prussian castle and the Humboldt-Forum in Berlin. Artefakte//anti-humboldt pursues its questioning of the ethnographic museums by organizing a workshop on restitution (2008), a lecture and a debate with Françoise Vergès on the “Museum of the present” (2009), an open-air film lecture with mummy films held at the construction site of the to-be-built castle in Berlin (2010) as well as at the musée du Quai Branly invited by bétonsalon in Paris (2011). The lecture formes the basis for the installation “‘Rise for you will not perish’ (on mummymania)” showcased at the exhibition Animism at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2012. Artefakte is currently working on the project “Künstliche Tatsachen/Artificial Fact” in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Dresden (Germany), and partners in South Africa and Benin.
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