My Peruvian museum

by Priya Chendke
Masters Student |  York University, Toronto, Ontario

Download PDF: CH1(1).47-62.Chendke

Abstract: So much has constituted Peru’s history in the past and continues to “make history” (and headlines) today; however, not all of these events /people / thing / moments-in-time are necessarily given a sufficient amount (if any) attention and credit in ‘official’ Peruvian museums, in school curriculums, in major national advertisement campaigns attracting both foreign and domestic tourists, or in itineraries of popular tours offered by Peruvian tour operators. Even though many of the exhibits in My Peruvian Museum follow feature quintessential and iconic Peruvian commodities (from llamas to Paddington Bear to poverty), they are represented in unusual and refreshing ways which points to how paying attention to these affects can be both productive and enriching. These exhibits attempt to pay attention to gaps in the well-known Peruvian narrative and therefore challenge what other museums usually portray as a seamless history of the Peruvian nation.

Key words: Peru, affect, history


My Peruvian Museum places on display various ‘exhibits’ that are examples of human and non-human experiences, movements, flashes, surges, and intensities that we can (and should) become more attuned to in the somewhat recent turn to affect. This fictional museum attempts to pay more attention to “ordinary affects” (Stewart 2007) relating to and happening in the country this museum focuses on—Peru—and the things or people— or both—that often slip through the cracks or can get overlooked in the process of trying to name things and theorize using grand paradigms. Affective states, writes Roland Barthes, “outplay the paradigm of dialectics by referring to something unprecedented, something that slips through the net of dialectical analysis” (Cronan 2012:51). Further, affects constitute a “level of experience [that] cannot be translated into words without doing violence” explains Gibbs (2010:200), arguing that affects “open unsuspected possibilities for new ways of thinking, being, and acting” (2010:187). She also notes that paying attention to the affective turn means paying attention to, “envisionings beyond the already known” (Gibbs 2010:203). Similarly, for Patricia Clough, author of Autoaffection, affects are, “unexpected, new,” and contribute to the “forging of a new body” (Cronan 2012:53). The following exhibits on display in My Peruvian Museum attempt to do just this and they are refreshing, haunting, and eye-opening, sometimes all at the same time.

So much has constituted Peru’s history in the past and continues to “make history” (and headlines) today; however, similar to the case of slaves used to mine gold and the violence imbued in cocaine production in Colombia (Taussig 2004), not all of these events /people / thing / moments-in-time are necessarily given a sufficient amount (if any) attention and credit in ‘official’ Peruvian museums, in school curriculums, in major national advertisement campaigns attracting both foreign and domestic tourists, or in itineraries of popular tours offered by Peruvian tour operators. Even though many of the exhibits that follow feature quintessential and iconic Peruvian commodities (from llamas to Paddington Bear to poverty), they are represented in unusual and refreshing ways which points to how paying attention to these affects can be both productive and enriching. These exhibits attempt to pay attention to gaps in the well-known Peruvian narrative and therefore challenge what other museums usually portray as a seamless history of the Peruvian nation. A museum such as this one, just like the history of Peru, can never be complete; therefore it can, and should, always be augmented and updated with new affects.


The Llama is a wooly sort of fleecy hairy goat. With an indolent expression and an undulating throat.
— Hilaire Belloc, More Beasts for Worse Children (1897)

The llama, in its interactions with humans in the past (during the Inca Empire) as well as today, has successfully become constructed as the national animal and symbol of Peru, as well as a species tourists constantly desire to encounter while traveling throughout Peru. The llama has therefore been effectively imagined as a symbol of Peruvian identity and history and acts as a living, in the (nonhuman) flesh ambassador of the nation’s sacred Inca and Andean culture. The historical ties of these animals with the Inca Empire and their continuous importance in everyday Peruvian society have situated them as agents that bridge the past with the present and it would be unfair to merely call them pets. It can be argued that the Inca Empire and today’s tourism industry would not be as successful or enduring without the major player and non-human actor that is the llama. Llamas are essential to the lives of residents of the Central Andes to this day as a companion species, as a source of income from their wool, as participants in sacred rituals where they are so respected that they are sometimes sacrificed, at times are a source of food, their droppings used as a fertiliser, and are perhaps most recognized as pack animals for their ability to transport materials down the rockiest and harshest of mountain terrains that no horse could do. Llamas have even been deemed ‘environmentally-conscious’ animals due to the shape of their hooves which cause little damage to the ground unlike other pack animals. Therefore, more attention is increasingly being paid to the collaboration of non-human and human beings in everyday life in Peru which has been going on for centuries. The interactions of humans and llamas in the Andes region of Peru are very important and take place on a daily basis, and it can be argued that the Inca Empire would have not been able to sustain itself and expand in the manner that it did without the vibrant presence and capabilities of the llama. More than just serving humans, however, llamas and humans partake in co-agential relationships that are constantly co-evolving.

The contributions of the llama to the Inca Empire are thus multiple, and it is very significant that the species has survived thousands of years and is still a vital actor in Peru today, giving them an important status as agents of Peruvian memory and identity due to their long history with the nation. According to the scientist Jared Diamond from the pbs series Guns, Germs, and Steel, the domestication of the llama was extremely important for the development of Andean civilizations in several ways but the most important seems to be that it is a very reliable transport animal or “beast of burden,” large enough to carry packs and metals and so it permitted the horizontal integration of human societies in the Andes (Diamond 2005) and the domestication of these camelids is therefore a process that has forever transformed Andean societies. The llama can therefore be considered to be the most important animal in the Andes, most likely because they have been successfully domesticated (Goepfert 2010:28). In many of these highland Peruvian communities llamas were the main source of raw material, meat, wool, and leather for sandals; they also participated in the social and economic life of the communities as pack animals and were used in rituals as offerings (their foetuses and intestinal calculi, for example) (Goepfert 2010:28). Diamond stresses that it is a remarkable feat that Andean civilizations were able to develop both in the highlands and in the lowlands, and thus were able to become connected into a stronger, more unified empire (Anning 2011).

It has been argued that llamas played a major role here, and they made it possible to transport fish caught from the ocean and carry them up to emperors in the highlands, as well as to transport products produced in the highlands and transport them down to the lowlands (Anning 2011). The llama was also an animal big enough to feed members of entire communities and its manure was used as an exceptional fertilizer on the fields and would yield a higher amount of vital crops, such as potatoes and maize corn, than without it. According to Diamond,

for all these reasons then state governments and empires, big political units, rose surprisingly early in the Andes, already before the time of Christ and the Andes ended up with the largest empire in the Americas, the largest native American state of the Americas. Namely, the Inca Empire which ran all the way from Ecuador into northern Chile. You can thank the llama its contributions in to making that possible (Diamond 2005).

Llamas were thus undoubtedly an integral part of the Incan ‘workforce’ which makes them sound like acutal co-actors, not merely pets of humans. As reliable pack animals they contributed vastly to the building of the Incas’ irrigation systems, roads, and temples, and they were also used to carry loads in the Incan mines (Westreicher 2007:90). It should also be noted that even now “llamas are still used today by the indigenous peoples of South America for packing and transporting goods, for clothing and for meat. Mostly the males are used as pack animals and they usually carry up to fifty pounds” (Westreicher 2007:90). Llamas even display agency such as when, “an overloaded llama will simply refuse to move, which can be seen when these animals throw a fit and lie down on the ground and they may spit, hiss, or even kick at their owners until their burden is lessened to a more acceptable weight for them” (National Geographic). Even today they still, “provide meat, wool, hides for sandals, and fat for candles. Their dung can be dried and used for fuel. South American herders use most parts of a llama’s carcass” (Westreicher 2007:90). According to Alex Chepstow-Lusty of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima who conducted a study on the extraordinary properties of llama dung, llama herds defecated communally which provided fertilizer for the maize crops which was easily collected (Anning 2011). For Patricia Clough, one challenge of affect theory is to show how “bodily matter” (i.e. even llama waste by-product) bears its own, “information” as this bodily information overruns the information contained in any linguistic system (Cronan 2012:51). Therefore, it was an “assemblage” (Bennett 2010) of different co-agents, the llamas, their dung and even maize crops that nourished the Incas and the expansion of their Empire.“Today, the Incas are long gone,” writes Chepstow-Lusty, “largely wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. But their descendants, the Quechua, still use llama droppings for fertiliser and cooking fuel” (Anning 2011).

Interestingly, there is an increasing fascination with both llamas and alpacas in Europe and North America, two continents which have spawned a new generation of farmers and breeders of these camelids, and Cathi McMullen, author of Romancing the Alpaca: Passionate Consumption, Collection and Companionship points out that, “What often started out as simply being overwhelmed by the beautiful alpaca eyelashes has become a life-changing experience for many” (McMullen 2008:504). Alpacas have been described capable of drawing humans to them with their inquisitive nature, intelligence, and attractive appearance. Breeders are also attracted to alpacas because they do not have to kill the animal for profit, a necessity with other livestock (McMullen 2008:504). Numerous alpaca owners in North America describe their involvement with alpacas as a “glorious obsession,” a “wonderful addiction,” or even a “love affair,” very similar to how Donna Haraway describes humans’ intimate relationships with their dogs (McMullen 504). Llamas are even becoming commonplace in strange new situations, such as acting as a golf caddy on American golf courses, replacing some humans as caddies during leisurely rounds of golf.

Paddington Bear

Paddington Bear is a fictional stuffed bear who, beginning in the late 1950s, was featured in countless children’s books by British children’s author Michael Bond. What many people do not know is that Paddington’s native homeland is Peru and that,

Although Paddington now lives in London, England, he originally came from Darkest Peru where he was brought up by his Aunt Lucy after he was orphaned following an earthquake when he was just a few weeks old. When Aunt Lucy went to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, she decided to send him to England to live. After teaching him to speak English she arranged for him to stowaway in a ship’s lifeboat. Eventually, Paddington arrived on Paddington Station in London which is where the very first story begins with the words:

Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear for Paddington was the name of the station. The Browns decided to name their new member of the family Paddington, after the place where he was found, although we later learn that in Peru his name was Pastuso [his Quechua name]. [Paddington Bear Official Website]

Paddington is a beloved storybook character in England and around the world—Bond’s books having been translated in over 30 languages over the last 50 years—and Paddington Bear is actually often named one of England’s most famous ‘immigrants’. In the last few years, however,

Britain’s preoccupation with immigrants, asylum-seekers and visa-overstayers is so great that even English literature’s most famous illegal alien, Paddington Bear is now being portrayed in the midst of his most terrifying adventure ever—a UK police interrogation over his immigration status. Nearly 30 years after the last Paddington Bear novel was published, its author Michael Bond finally said he would write another, but this time it will be about the young visa-dodger’s experience of an immigration inquiry. [Lall 2007]

In the end, Paddington gets out of the sticky situation, which Bond felt necessary to write about and prove his “innocence,” but, nonetheless the entire situation still worried many people.

Many loyal Paddington Bear fans that grew up reading Bond’s books reacted negatively to Paddington’s fictional interrogation in the story book and were very protective of this fictional bear. Even the Peruvian Embassy reacted as if the incident was in fact real and made an official statement: “Paddington Bear is very important to British people, so the name Peru has a positive association for them from childhood. And I think ‘Darkest Peru’ is a great phrase. It has come to represent exoticism, so it’s very cool. People have been moving around for centuries,” said the embassy spokesman (MacDonald 2008:1). In fact, the Peruvian attitude towards Peru’s most famous bear is so warm and affectionate that when HarperCollins, the publisher of the Paddington Bear books, held a reception at the Embassy recently, officials decided to help Paddington out with the accusation of his refugee status. “In the book, there is a problem with Paddington’s papers, so the Peruvian ambassador gave Michael Bond a passport for him,” explains the Peruvian embassy spokesman, promising that, “he will not have those difficulties again” (McDonald 2008:1). Even though the Peruvian spokesman also felt it necessary to add that, “It’s not a real passport. He is a fictional bear,” it may as well have been a real passport since it seems that making sure that this fictional bear is considered a legal immigrant amongst the British population and not a refugee is very important for Peru’s image as a peaceful place. Therefore, even if Paddington Bear is ‘just’ a character in children’ books, he is clearly affecting people and this ordeal caused strong reactions—from British people who grew up with Paddington and associate Peru with a friendly place as well as the many British tourists who travel to Peru today and take photos with their own Paddington Bear at different attractions, to the Peruvian embassy vehemently refuting the claims that he was an illegal refugee in England. Bond has even penned Paddington’s Guide to London: A Bear’s Eye View which looks like any other Frommer’s or Lonely Planet guide to London and thus makes Paddington a cherished fictional character, but is now also considered a tourism authority, possibly influencing the places where a tourist visits (or avoids) based on his suggestions.

Today, Paddington Bear, even if he is a ‘legal’ immigrant to Britain, has now become an activist for illegal immigrants, and especially children. Apparently, “Now the stray bear, who came to Britain accompanied with a note from his ailing aunt asking that he be looked after, is spearheading a campaign—along with more than 60 children’s authors and illustrators—to highlight the [British] Government’s continued arrest and detention of hundreds of child asylum-seekers in prison-like conditions” (Verkaik 2009:1). The petition proclaims, “As writers and illustrators of books for children, we urge you to stop detaining children whose families have sought asylum in the UK” (Verkaik 2009:1). And, the moving letter is even accompanied by a special message written in Paddington’s own words. It reads: “Whenever I hear about children from foreign countries being put into detention centres, I think how lucky I am to be living at number 32 Windsor Gardens with such nice people as Mr. and Mrs. Brown” (Verkaik 2009:1). Paddington Bear may simply be a fictional bear in children’s stories but he is now, apparently, getting involved in activism in order to create real change in people’s lives, calling the British government out on the detaining of children asylum-seekers in Britain. This well-loved fictional bear is clearly affecting the lives of children—and not just when parents read author Bond’s books to their children at night—but the fact that Paddington’s voice is being employed in the petition to the Government, demonstrates  this fictional bear’s capacity to enact real change in people’s lives.

Colourful Maize (Corn)

In Peru, maize comes in an astounding number of shapes, sizes, available in a rainbow of colours from blue to yellow, and was regarded as sacred by Peru’s pre-Hispanic peoples, but it also affected the flourishing of Inca society itself, the civilization which erected the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu. As such, more light needs to be shed on the sheer impact that the unlikely actor, corn, has had in Peru then and now. In fact,

up until now, the prevailing theory was that marine resources, not agriculture and corn, provided the economic engine behind the development of civilization in the Andean region of Peru. Now, breakthrough research led by Field Museum curator Dr. Jonathan Haas is providing new resolution to the issue concluding that during the Late Archaic period, maize was a primary component in the diet of people living in the Norte Chico region of Peru, an area of remarkable cultural florescence in the 3rd millennium B.C. [Field Museum 2013:1]

According to Lidio M. Valdez, “During Inka times, production and consumption of maize beer was critical to the organization of labour for construction of monumental architecture, agricultural terraces, and the extensive infrastructure of roads and bridges that stretched from present-day Ecuador to Chile and northwest Argentina. Such utilization of maize beer is still important in many parts of the Andes” (Valdez 2006:53). Valdez argues that we cannot underestimate the relationship between the organization of labour in Peru and maize beer. In fact, a new study by a team of archaeologists that includes Northern Illinois University anthropologist Winifred Creamer has uncovered that corn was the crop that powered rise of Peruvian civilization 5,000 years ago (niu 2013):

The new evidence shows that the start of civilization in South America was actually powered by agriculture, just as in the other great early civilizations, such as in Mesopotamia and Egypt … The common element among all these ancient world powers was grain, which produced a reliable yield and was easy to store. In ancient Peru, we found that corn was everywhere. It was a staple of their diets and a key part of this civilization’s economy.[niu 2013].

Therefore, this exhibit on Peruvian corn attempts to show that we are not only dealing with things in the past that are long gone in museums, but that corn has an enduring presence and relevance in Peruvian diets in both food and drink form. Understanding that corn is an affordable nutritional staple, nourishing the many Peruvians who still perform intensive manual labour and agriculture in the highlands of Peru is very important, as is tracing its significance throughout Peru’s history and seeing how the type of food that people nourish themselves with plays a major role in their productive output, the structures they build, and technologies they develop.

Fog over Lima, Peru

The strangest, saddest city thou can’st see.
— Ishmael on Lima in Herman Mellville’s Moby Dick (1851)

Michael Taussig, following Walter Benjamin, discusses how surprising it is that many people consider the weather to be such a mundane thing and something sufficiently described using numerical measurements, whereas Benjamin is extremely fascinated by the phenomenon of weather, considering it one of the highest and most amazing manifestations of cosmic forces (Taussig 2004:48). It is often said that a lot of fog hugs the coastal region of the country, especially the capital city Lima (Gritzner 2005:23) and it does seem that a dark ominous fog clouds over coast of Lima almost daily. Lima is a desert city where it rarely rains, in fact, they do not sell umbrellas or rain boots anywhere in Lima, yet a thick fog over the city is still the quintessential forecast in Lima and is the norm. On foggy days there is very low visibility and many buildings and places become completely invisible and seem to get ‘erased’ from the skyline of the city, even though they are obviously still there. Yet, it makes for a difficult time when trying to drive through this thick fog, and disappoints tourists when their photos do not turn quite out as planned. Thus, fog seems to ‘have its own way’ and a life of its own since it can interfere with many Lima citizens and tourists’ plans for the day.

In some ways, however, the fog can also be an extremely beautiful sight and people do get used to it after a while. In fact, this dense fog is even being considered a valuable resource as of recently, proving that something as “mundane” and gloomy as fog can be something productive depending on the way you look at it, and clearly scientists and researchers have been analyzing Lima’s unique fog and its many potentialities for enacting real change like fighting poverty. Collyns writes that, “sandwiched between the cool ocean currents of the Pacific Ocean and the Andean foothills, Peru’s coastal capital is a meteorological anomaly. Lima is the second-largest desert city after Cairo and rainfall is extremely low—less than 4cm annually—but humidity can reach 98%” (Collyns 2012:1).Interestingly,

some newcomers are now turning to the climatic phenomenon known locally as the ‘donkey’s belly’—the thick, white sea fog that blankets coastal parts of the city (Lima) for up to nine months of the year—as a source of water. On hills in Villa María del Triunfo, a sprawling shantytown in the city’s south, strange rectangular structures loom out of the fog like ghostly sentinels. Closer inspection reveals they are four-by-six-metre bamboo and metal frames draped with a thick mesh. Slung underneath them run plastic gutters—water drains down pipes, through a biofilter, and into 1,100-litre tanks. [Collyns 2012:1]

Over the past five years, the organization Peruvians Without Water, with the help of foreign investment, has built 32 fog nets in the district. Beginning with 10 nets in the Bellavista settlement in 2009, Cruz secured a $20,000 grant from the US development agency usaid to build 22 more nets in the nearby Los Tunales de Asall community, supplying around 75 families with water. Each net, complete with a tank, costs less than $800 to construct (Collyns 2012:1). According to a usaid–Peru representative, “We were able to fund a project that takes Lima’s 98% humidity and helps turn it into an opportunity to obtain clean water, often a challenge to some excluded populations living in the city outskirts” (Collyns 2012:1). This does not mean, however, that such an innovative project was not met with skepticism. For example, Noe Neira Tocto, the mayor of the slum that lies just inland from the Pacific initially said, “Really, it just seemed like it would be impossible to catch fog with plastic netting, and that it would turn into drops of water” (Collyns 2012:1). Nevertheless, the positive effects of this relatively recent initiative (which began around 2009) on grateful residents is already being seen, as for example, “Being able to count on a daily supply of 50–150 litres of water has been a lifeline for 66-year-old Artemio Alfaro and his family. He uses it to irrigate aloe vera (sábila) plantations. He sells the plants, at six Peruvian soles ($2.30 usd) each, to three Peruvian health-product firms. He aims to get organic certification, which would double the price for the plants” (Collyns 2012:1). To top it all off and to make a connection to another period in Peru’s history, according to Alain Gioda, a French hydrologist, the fog-catching has even been described as reminiscent of an ancient Inca technique in which not nets, but plants and trees, were used to gather water, collected at the base of the tree or plant (Collyns 2012:1). Therefore, there appears to be a lot more to Lima’s fog than meets the (squinting, mist-covered) eye.


Villa El Salvador is a shanty town that appeared in Lima, Peru, in 1971 as a result of the relocation of a massive population often called “invaders”, or rather, communities moving from the highlands areas of Peru in droves, to Lima in search of “the good life.” Through the years, this town became a symbol of the huge population boom in Lima, and many shanty towns such as this one line the outskirts of Lima since there is literally no more room in Lima for people to build dwellings. Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, in his book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, points his attention to the mass migrations of the poor from the countryside to cities like Lima over the last approximately 30 years. Robert Skidelsky, who reviewed de Soto’s book, argues that these migrations are:

transforming sleepy colonial ports and market towns, dominated by mercantile and administrative elites, into megacities. By 2015, more than 50 cities in developing countries will have populations of over five million, most of them living and working extralegally. The old elites live in ‘bell jars’ of heavily protected property, residential and commercial; outside flock millions of rural migrants in shanty towns, virtually invisible to the law. [Skidelsky 2000]

This is because they have not bought property and paid taxes on that property, but erected their home themselves, and shantytowns can literally be built overnight and ‘take over’ plots of land.

While it may be easy to write off those who flock to Lima and build shanty towns as simply ruthless “illegal invaders”, de Soto and his researchers also discovered, in these sprawling “illegal cities,” a vibrant entrepreneurial culture that needs to be equally acknowledged. ‘’You need only,’’ de Soto writes, ‘’take a taxi from the airport to your hotel to see city perimeters crowded with homes, armies of vendors hawking wares in the streets, glimpses of bustling workshops behind garage doors and battered buses crisscrossing the grimy streets” (de Soto 2003:29). These ‘invaders’ may seem lawless but they actually regulate themselves by their own informal social contracts. However, since they are not legally acknowledged and are considered “squatters,” de Soto explains, it is very hard for them to find work and “make it” in the city: ‘’What the poor lack is easy access to the property mechanisms that could legally fix the economic potential of their assets so that they could be used to produce, secure or guarantee greater value in the expanded market” (de Soto 2003:48). Not only are Lima’s shanty towns hauntingly beautiful, with their rainbow-hued homes set against a backdrop of a monstrous mountain, a patriotic Peruvian flag etched on its surface, and a clear blue sky, but these fragile yet innovative houses are a visible sign of determination and resilience, and an attempt at approaching “the good life.” There is, however, still a long way to go in tackling poverty in Lima, where thousands of ‘outsiders’ are desperately moving each year and literally setting up camp, even if it is on the city’s outskirts where they are called squatters of areas ‘official’ Lima residents make sure to avoid. While there is optimism about the economic growth that Peru has undoubtedly experienced in the last decade, many influential Peruvians, such as Nobel-prize author and former Presidential candidate Mario Vargas Llosa has said the following about his love/hate relationship with his complicated homeland: “Peru is for me a kind of incurable disease and my feeling for her is intense, bitter, and full of the violence that characterizes passion” (Falconer 2006:105).

Ayahuasca and ‘drug experimentation tourism’

According to Michael Taussig, in his book, Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (1987), ingesting ayahuasca, a concoction made using the bark of a vine in the Amazon, is something that: “belongs with the sacred, taking place as a communal ritual”. However, Taussig also considers the unpredictable and mind-altering ayahuasca as something that lacks the ‘unity,’ which is something Victor Turner deems as characteristic of the communitas of ritual (Taussig 1987:441). Taking ayahuasca is a “sensory pandemonium”, a dance of leaping shadows, a “chaotic mingling of danger and humor” (Taussig 1987:442). Sociologist Carl Cassegard agrees: “You don’t know how they will turn out. You will laugh, but you will also vomit and feel sick. Everything is hallucinatory and intense, but also full of unexpected, dreamlike reversals, connections, and juxtapositions. So much laughter” (Cassegard 2010).

Therefore, what is being described when people, including tourists travelling in Peru, take ayahuasca is that they go on a (hallucinogenic) ‘trip’ without knowing for how long or how intense it will be. Many tourists visit the Amazon jungle in Peru and are attracted by the possibility of ‘finding themselves’ with the guidance of a shaman who can help people wishing to take a spiritual journey and learn more about themselves or to cure an illness. Therefore, ayahuasca constitutes a touristic practice in itself as people seek out shamans to pay a visit to in the Amazon solely for the purpose of trying the now very well-known ayahuasca concoction. Thus, affect is involved in Amazonian spirituality as well as this recent ‘drug tourism’ in Peru, since after having taken ayahuasca one’s mental and bodily state is altered it through experiencing hallucinations and vivid, sometimes nightmarish visions. According to Florence E. Babb, “The recent campaign to promote spiritual tourism uses images to convey a New Age mystical appeal” (Babb 2011:74).

The people of the Amazon region have best maintained the shamanistic culture and spiritual traditions. Shamanism uses herb and hands-on therapy to cure people not just from physical sickness but from fear, jealously, tension, and anger. The treatment attempts to treat one’s overall wellness rather than just the symptoms of illness. [Falconer 2006:89]

Under the hallucinogens’ influence the individual can experience a revelation and shamans also consume the drug themselves to try and see into the future (Falconer 2006:89). After drinking this concoction that they themselves prepare, Peruvian shamans “believe they can travel in space or time and transform themselves into animals such as jaguars and anacondas” (Kalman 2003:18).

Mario Testino

Mario Testino, a Peruvian, is one of the world’s leading fashion photographers. He photographed Princess Diana in her last official portrait before her death and is still the Royal Family’s photographer, having snapped the royal engagement photo of Prince William and Kate Middleton. His high-fashion photography has graced the covers and pages of the world’s most important fashion magazines such as Vogue and Vanity Fair for decades. In an interview with Vogue magazine, Testino was quoted as saying, “My pictures are my eyes. I photograph what I see—and what I want to see” (Vogue n.d.). Through these eyes, according to Vogue, “the world is a place of vitality; gazing into them, his subjects are drawn to give up something of the essence of themselves. Over the past two decades, Testino’s view has slowly become a dominant way of seeing fashion” (Vogue n.d.). Other photographers have responded by “either aping it or rejecting it,” as author Patrick Kinmonth wrote, as well as adding that, “[Everything that] Testino turns his lens upon is by definition fashion” (Vogue n.d.).

Despite his worldwide notoriety as one of the highest earning and most successful fashion photographers ever, in 2012, Testino returned to his native Peru and opened a not-for-profit cultural organization and museum in Lima, called mate (standing for the first two letters of each of his first and last name, Mario Testino) that promotes and celebrates the work of emerging Peruvian artists who get plenty of exposure by being on display in his museum. Also featured is the largest collection of his own photos on display anywhere in the world, the majority of which are portrait photographs of high profile celebrity subjects. However, for its second exhibition since the photography museum opened, mate presented an exhibition called Alta Moda—which, when translated from Spanish means “high fashion,” a play on words since it featured a series of photographic portraits of Peruvians wearing traditional clothing from high up in the mountainous region of Cusco, a bold departure from Testino’s haute couture photography. To create Alta Moda, Testino “made several trips to Cusco city over a five-year period after discovering an archive of costumes from the region. Equally inspired by the history of Peruvian photography, Testino worked closely with the late famed Peruvian photographer Martin Chambi’s grandchildren and used recreated backdrops (of highland Peruvian sceneries) from the archive of the late iconic Peruvian photographer. While Alta Moda appears to reference the tradition of ‘ethnographic photography’; Testino has, in fact, captured several stories within each photograph” (Vogue n.d.). Says Testino, “I wanted to pay homage to Peru and to the sumptuousness of traditional Peruvian clothing, clothing to which Peruvians remain attached today” (Vogue n.d.).  He also states that, “I think, at the moment, the Peruvian art scene is very exciting and diverse … Because it’s not as well-known as some of the other centres, there is a freshness to it; like a new discovery” (Vogue n.d.).

It is extremely important to point out that Vogue Paris even dedicated their entire issue to Peru using Mario Testino’s photography in the April 2013 in Peruvian-themed photo editorials and articles. His high-fashion and celebrity portfolio is praised internationally and now, the world was getting to look into the world of traditional Peruvian textiles, made from extremely bright colours dyed from various vegetables, unique fabrics and cuts that seem to rival the designs of many contemporary designers today. This issue of a high-fashion magazine that influences so many consumers being dedicated to Peru shows just how inspiring South American prints and bright colours will become, if not already are, for many designers today, who obviously translate the often highly elaborate costumes for more ready to wear ones. Editor-in-chief of French Vogue, Emannuelle Alt, praised Testino’s work throughout the issue stating:

Peru gives you vertigo. Between the heights of Huascarán and the beaches of Lima, there is a difference of 7000m. For this issue, we made the jump with Mario Testino. [Mallard 2013:1]

Elaborating on the contents of the April 2013 issue,

Testino took this issue as an opportunity to showcase the marvelous types of sceneries of the many to see in Peru: The photographer introduced us to the enchanting contrasts of his homeland through a high-color fashion triptyque, featuring three stories and three magnificent panoramas, with three fabulous girls: the mountains of Cuzco with Isabeli Fontana—our April cover girl—and Aymeline Valade, the Peruvian coast with Kate Moss and the Nazca desert with Erin Wasson. [Vogue n.d.]

The cover of the issue features top-model Isabeli Fontana wearing a Dolce&Gabbana Spring Summer 2013 Sicilian Folk multi-colour raffia mini skirt and bralette top shot by Testino in the highlands of Cusco. This colourful and fashion forward interpretation of Peruvian fashion is finished off with tasselled earrings by Dolce&Gabbana and the classic bowler hat that many women in the Andes wear with coloured pompons.

Finally, the issue also reveals interesting insights into the world of Peruvian dress that many Peruvians themselves do not even know, for example, that the reason why Peruvian and Bolivian women wear bowler hats is an interesting one. In 1920s a shipment of bowler hats was sent over to Bolivia via Peru for the Europeans working on the railways. The order was wrong, with the hats being too small and were hence distributed amongst the native population, and adopted by the women (Vogue n.d.).


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 Publication Information
Volume 1, Number 1 (2014)
ISSN 2292-6739 (Online)


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