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Exhibition: Giving Life to the Lords of the Desert
The Chiribaya Art at the ICPNA 

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Ceramic motif

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Coca leave bag, textile 

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Chiribaya ancient mummy 
wrapped with textiles

Exactly where the Chiribaya appeared  initially  or how they expanded  is still uncertain, nevertheless approximately in 1250 AD the Chiribaya founded numerous villages from the Tambo river on the north to the Azapa valley in the north of Chile, and as far up into the mountains as Moquegua in Southern Peru. 

The purpose of this exhibition within the Proyect of Popular Peruvian Art is to introduce to a wide and varied audience the original ceramics and textiles of the ancient Chiribaya culture together with the works of painted art by Rivka Rago. Most of her paintings represent true archaeological records of Chiribaya culture ceramic and textile iconography. They are known for their well made pottery with complex, colorful geometric designs and their magnificent decorated textiles, which are stylistically quite different from anything seen in the region before. 

The exhibition will be an instrument to further sustainable development of scientific archaeological work. Ms. Rago's  paintings give a new and rich vibrancy to these ancient objects. In addition, she has taken steps to interpret and apply these ancient designs on a variety of modern media, some of them with the assistance of additional women and men from the area that currently produce ceramic and textiles.

The Chiribaya culture developed in the coastal Osmore Drainage during the middle Horizon and late intermediate period (before 900 to 1350 A.D.) in the far south of Peru, and the valley reached its zenith of population during the Chiribaya occupation. It is argued by some, that their development may have had a duration of as much as 600 years, and that their influence spread from the Azapa Valley in northern Chile to the coastal area of the district of Arequipa, a distance of some 170 miles. Yet, this culture is only known today to a limited number of experts and layman.

Some Chiribayas were buried in simple pits with few goods and plain textiles, others were buried in rectangular tombs with dozens of well-made, highly decorated ceramics, brilliantly colored clothing, hats, feathers, basketry, wood and leather goods, copper and gold, food and coca, and even, in the case of one important male and two female companions. These rare and extremely wealthy burials suggest that Chiribaya society was ruled by powerful authorities.

The arid climate of this costal area has preserved a multitude of tombs which contained uncounted ceramics, textiles and objects for occupational and household use that are extant. The contents of these tombs and occupational sites with rich middens have made it possible to understand and recreate some of their daily activities, subsistence, burial customs and beliefs. It is therefore our responsibility to record these findings and display and publish them, as is intended in this exhibition and accompanying catalog.

Chiribaya iconography today is just as appealing to the modern consumer as it was more than a thousand years ago when ancient Chiribaya ceramicists and weavers started to apply it on their wares. Chiribaya ceramic designs differ greatly from their contemporaries in the use of colors, motifs and rich luster, though their shapes are similar to those used by other highland and coastal cultures. Textile designs may resemble those of their coastal neighbors, but each of those cultures, including the Chiribaya, maintained its own particular style.

The rich color scheme of Chiribaya iconography with varied design compositions can in fact find use in many of today's products, such as modern ceramics, various decorative items, rugs, clothes, accessories and so on. The development of these numerous possibilities could lead to support local industry for the local and foreign tourist markets in the areas of ancient Chiribaya occupation and other parts of Peru.

Dorothee Rivka Rago is a professional archeological illustrator and has worked as an illustrator and independent Research Associate for the Bioanthropology Foundation, Centro Mallqui, located in Ilo, in southern Peru, directed by Dr. Sonia Guillén.

The Director Mr. Fernando Torres and sub Director Pedro Pablo Alayza of the Instituto Cultural Peruano Norteamericano (ICPNA) have gracefully sponsored this exhibition, by the Proyect of Popular Peruvian Art, The ancient Chiribaya of Southern Peru, curated by two outstanding women that contribute with a particular and special perspective to the study of  pre-Columbian art and science: Sonia Guillén bio-anthropologist and  Rivka Rago painter.

The Asociacion Picaflor (Terra Peruviana), directed by John A. Davis has promoted and supported this project since its very beginning. They have considered it to be an important model that has to be established in a country that has so many needs, but at the same time, so many cultural resources.

Lola Salas, 2003
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