Botanic Insurgencies: Phaseolus lunatus

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Ximena Garrido-Lecca

“In his book Royal Commentaries of the Incas, Garcilaso de la Vega affirms, as all other chroniclers do,

that the ancient Peruvians didn’t have a form of writing that allowed them to express their ideas through

graphic symbols with the aim of perpetuating the most important occurrences in their lives, or their achievements.

It was very difficult for us, since the beginning, to resign ourselves to think the same about the Mochica civilization,

who had reached very advanced cultural levels in all sorts of human activities. It was inadmissible that the agents

of such a culture didn’t have, as rudimentary as it may have been, a form of expressing their ideas graphically,

of conserving their history.

That’s why we think that, fundamentally, civilizations are forged when, in addition to having all the means

for their subsistence in abundance, they conserve a history that constantly revives the past,

reflects the present, and allows a glimpse of the future.”

Rafael Larco Hoyle

“The Mochicas”, Volume I, 1938

The Façade Project presented by Peruvian artist Ximena Garrido-Lecca at Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros consists of an ideogram composed of images of lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus). Each one of the grains, represented in a large scale mural and painted weekly by a sign-maker, comes from plants cultivated in a hydroponic system that the artist has installed in The Cube of this museum.

The ideogram which is being painted weekly throughout the period of the exhibition, is a re-activation or re-interpretation of the written communication or divination system of the Moche culture, a Peruvian pre-Incan civilization that, between the years 100 and 850 CE, developed impressive hydraulic irrigation systems which allowed them to extend their agricultural frontiers in large scale, and who are well known for their significant artistic and architectural legacies. Although early chroniclers like Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and archaeologist Max Uhle declared that the advanced civilization lacked a written system of communication, by the early 20th century this hypothesis was confronted by Peruvian researchers and scholars. Rafael Larco Hoyle excelled as the highest exponent of this opposition arguing that, in fact, a written system of communication did exist and was evidenced in Moche artistic legacy, revealed through ideograms and pictographs. For Larco Hoyle, every graphic sign (starting with petroglyphs) conveys and evidences “History.” The chroniclers that denied the existence of Moche systems of drafted communication were only thinking about writing as alphabetic and phonetic. However, the meaning of Moche ideograms has not been decrypted and it’s reputed by other scholars that they could have been part of a divination system or a game instead of a language.

Taking into account the disjunctive about the interpretation of these symbols of Moche culture, the artist will be developing a sort shamanistic interpretation from Spanish to the Moche language or system of divination of a chapter titled “Edicto contra la idolatría” (Edict Against Idolatry) from the book Extirpación de la idolatría del Pirú (Extirpation of Peruvian Idolatry), a kind of manual for the colonization of indigenous people through the conversion of pagan religious traditions to Christian ones, written by the missionary Father Pablo Jose Arriaga in 1621. As the lima beans get harvested, some of the grains are chosen and endowed with a meaning that corresponds to a line from Arriaga’s text. This magic reading that reproduces, in graphic and pictorial form, the detailed rules and punishments against the local religious traditions described in Arriaga’s text, is a gesture of resistance in which Garrido-Lecca employs operations of cultural undervaluing similar to the ones that were used in the debasement of important spiritual traditions of indigenous civilizations. This new representation of the text, presented as a mural in the museum’s Façade Project, is a critical stance against the frictions, faults, and problems of intercultural interpretation.

In Botanic Insurgencies… Garrido-Lecca presents us with a present or future in which Moche systems are integral to contemporary culture. The ideograms and pictographs are no longer drawn or carved on ceramics, or temples, instead they are painted as murals by a sing maker that makes them present within the contemporary public sphere.

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