Endangered Archives

EAP150: Documenting regional artistic traditions: Peru ca. 1750-1950

Mr Jesús Varillas, Museo de Arte de Lima
2007 award - Pilot project
£10,000 for 6 months

Project Overview

Art history as an academic discipline has had scant development in Peru. It is taught only at the undergraduate level at one university (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos), and very few professionals are active in the field. The rich artistic and cultural heritage of Peru from the post-conquest period to the present has thus been largely neglected, and little effort has been placed on the recovery of archival documentation that could contribute in the future to research on this vast legacy.

Due to the lack of institutional supports for artistic practice, documentation is largely dispersed among private associations and individuals, and is hence difficult to identify or preserve. This project's basic purpose is to identify such archives and to formulate strategies for their recovery and for making them accessible to the scholarly community.

This project focuses primarily on regional traditions developed outside the capital, and it places emphasis on the Central and Southern Andean regions. Art generally forms part of communal life, and both production and patronage is defined largely by communal contexts and regional circuits. Boundaries between genres is also blurred, as art forms part of complex ceremonial and festive contexts. Further, in the case of the traditions under study, categories such as fine, popular or applied arts become more fluid and open. The complexity of the subject makes the retrieval of documentation a more difficult challenge.

Types of documentation:

1. Confraternity books and accounts. Much artistic regional production prior to the early 20 th century revolved around communal celebrations, usually of a religious nature, centered on the confraternity as the main axis. Confraternity books and accounts usually contain significant information regarding the organization of feasts, contracts with artisans and inventories of cult objects. Such materials are dispersed among a number of different institutions. Many are housed in the Archivo Arzobispal de Lima, the Archivo General de la Nación, Beneficencia Pública de Lima, as well as in departmental archives, bishoprics and other ecclesiastical institutions. In many of these cases, neglect has even recently led to substantial loss of documentation. One of the aims of this project is to generate an inventory of such holdings in different archives that would allow us to determine an adequate form of copying for preventive conservation.

2. Regional artistic associations, intellectuals and photographers. The lack of institutional spaces for the development of art historical studies, as well as the general absence of institutional affiliations for most artists and creators, makes the retrieval of documentary materials a true challenge. The project will search for families of intellectuals and photographers who might hold written and visual records of importance, and will trace the whereabouts of archives relating to associations that operated in the 20 th century. The project will also search for archives holding regional publications and ephemera, which are very rare, as they were usually printed in extremely low runs.

3. Associations dedicated to regional traditions in Lima. During the 20th century, a number of individuals and institutions worked towards the promotion of regional arts and traditions. The project considers developing contacts with regional clubs in Lima , institutions, owners and administrators of the main galleries active in the period, as well as photographers and intellectuals who hold documentary materials.

Except for the archives of intellectuals and photographers, it is expected to find mostly fragmentary documentation in a number of diverse locations. This project should compile discrete gatherings of documents which, together, can constitute a highly significant source of information of interest to a broad range of disciplines, and especially to art historians, anthropologists, and ethnohistorians. By the end of the project it is hoped to have summary inventories of documentation and to have tracked down collections of documents that may form part of future retrieval projects. The project will also generate a map of types of institutions, individuals, and associations that have played an important role in regional artistic traditions.

Project Outcome

Following the project's schedule, the study chose as its starting point the capital cities of modern regions in the southern and central Peruvian highlands: Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cuzco, Huancavelica, Huancayo and Puno, as well as Lima, since the latter has archives which hold major documentary collections that pertain to the above-mentioned regions.

Two types of documentary collections were identified in each of the cities where the project was undertaken: public and private collections. With regard to access to the documentary collections, many of the organised institutional archives and collections, such as the regional archives, allow the documents they hold to be used once one has registered. But many institutions, particularly in the Peruvian highlands, do not allow their documentation to be used because their collections are held in storage rooms devoid of any order and without anyone in charge of their custody.

Restrictions placed on access are not just limited to public institutions; even private organisations and some families who hold collections restrict entrance giving the reason that these are exclusively for internal use, or because they have a personal and exclusive project regarding the use of their collection.

The scant importance assigned to documents is once again confirmed. Several documentary gaps were detected throughout the development of the project in regions where art activities were once significant. These documentary gaps are to a great extent due to the fact that the State and the institutions holding these materials do not have a policy for the preservation of the documentary heritage, and to the scant or non-existent interest of some descendants of the artists. All kinds of stories regarding the loss of documents have thus been recorded, ranging from meticulously-prepared thefts to the indiscriminate sale of documents, or simply to the fact that no adequate steps were taken for their preservation, which led to the definitive elimination of large volumes of what are called old papers that take up space.

Another factor which bears directly upon the disappearance of documentary materials is the condition of conservation of the collection. Since there are no adequate preservation conditions, in time the documents deteriorate due to the action both of the environment and of biological organisms (micro-organisms and rodents).

Potential regional documentary sources were identified during the preliminary phase of the bibliographical research of the project, which were then confirmed as existing, lost, or simply devoid of data relevant for our object of study.

Contact was established throughout the process of research and inventory with the individuals directly responsible for these holdings, providing many of them with advice, guidelines and criteria to bear in mind for an appropriate preservation, organisation and access to their documentary collections. Besides, both the institutions and the individuals responsible for the custody of these collections were open to receiving in the future more complete guidance and supervision of their holdings, as well as to jointly develop projects to catalogue and describe certain documentary series. Even church archives showed a favourable disposition towards the idea of having their documentary collections registered and digitally preserved.

The conclusion drawn was that despite the vast amount of sources on the textile and ceramic traditions of these regions, the presence of documents in paper format is almost nil in both public and private collections, at least for the periods reviewed in this research.

On completion of the project, some documentary holdings were selected in terms of the nature and provenience of their documents, as well as of the risk of damage and loss of information; we believe these may form part of larger projects that include the digitisation of all of the data these archives hold. This will not only make it possible to describe each document individually in a database and to preserve them as images, it will also ease their dissemination and digital/physical incorporation (in custody) into the Archivo de Arte Peruano, Área de Documentación del Museo de Arte de Lima.

Survey results (PDF document 4220KB)