Ser Pallay, curated by Florencia Portocarrero
Ser Pallay is a textile project that revolves around the creation of kunan pallaykuna [contemporary Andean textile iconography] and results from the collaboration between textile artists ¹María José Murillo (Arequipa, 1989) and Verovcha (Lima, 1994) and eight weaving artists associated with the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC)²: Alipio Melo (Pitumarca, 1989), Celia Sabina Pfoccohuanca (Accha Alta, 1985); Cintia Ylla (Chahuaytire, 1997); Cristina Ylla (Chahuaytire, 1997); Hermelinda Espinoza (Sallac, 2004); Luz Clara Cusihuaman (Chinchero, 2004); Miriam Quispe (Chinchero, 2006) and Norma Ojeda (Patabamba, 1980). The project was built through a series of semi-presential encounters³, between September and November 2021, which took place at the CTTC headquarters in the city of Cusco and the Vigil Gonzales gallery in Urubamba.
The central objective of Ser Pallay has been to generate a space for the exchange of knowledge, collaboration, and finally co-authorship among artists who, although they have dissimilar origins and training, share a real knowledge of the practice of Andean weaving and textiles. Andean textiles are made up of two inseparable elements: the pallay and the pampa. The pallay, whose more exact translation into Spanish would be "textile design", is part of a complex vocabulary through which Andean communities express their ways of thinking and feeling in diverse textile pieces that accompany their daily lives: the lliklla, the poncho, the chumpi, the chuspa, among others⁴. The pallay is only possible thanks to its complementary opposite - a plain and monochromatic fabric where no design has yet "sprouted" - called pampa. Nowadays, Andean textiles are mainly created on the backstrap loom, a tool that is integrated into the weaver's body and is characterized by a simple and portable design.
Despite the complexity and richness of the Andean textile tradition, it occupies an ambivalent place in local art historical narratives. In fact, since weaving is an eminently feminine, non-figurative expression, related to the indigenous body and animal fiber, it was not only unassimilable for the European fine arts tradition, but also became an aesthetic practice excluded -even- from Sabogal's popular art project⁵. Omnipresent and at the same time invisible, towards the middle of the 20th century, Andean textiles were "rediscovered" by Bauhaus artists Anni Albers and Sheila Hicks, becoming a pillar of modern design. In more recent years, the art world turned its gaze toward the aesthetic practices of indigenous peoples. In this context, Andean textiles have been the object of a renewed and justified recognition that, however, is not always accompanied by an interest in understanding the role they play in the communities that produce them, the knowledge they condense, and the density of a history that extends back to pre-Incan times. Swimming against the tide of this tendency to fetishize non-Western material culture, one of the most important premises of Ser Pallay has been to generate a space for dialogue and interlocution that gives prominence to the knowledge and concerns of the "Weaving Artists of Cusco"⁶ grouped around the project.
Can the Andean pallay, a communitarian and ancestral language, produce a critical testimony about the present? This was the question that, after working in different NGOs⁷ dedicated to the promotion of traditional Andean textiles in Cusco, led María José and Verovcha to propose a first conceptualization of Ser Pallay. After obtaining the support of the Ministry of Culture of Peru, through the 2021 economic stimulus, the first step to make the project a reality was to count on the support of the CTTC; an institution that published in its extensive networks an open call inviting interested weavers to "participate in a project whose goal was the creation of kunan pallaykuna throughout a series of workshops between September and November. Although the objective that brought the artists together was given beforehand, the methodology implemented during the meetings was rather exploratory and was based on sharing personal and collective experiences through weaving. In fact, to inaugurate the sessions, each participant brought a significant pallay, which was later analyzed as a group from technical, formal and affective perspectives. In this way, weaving became a gateway to the ways of seeing the world of the "Weaving Artists of Cusco".
It was precisely in this process of examining their own practices and the possibility of implementing new forms of textile rhetoric that the weaving artists made it clear that-although the Andean pallay has incorporated new meanings, formal attributes, and materials proper to the contemporary world-it resists as an ancestral language. To explain this condition, they repeatedly referred to the idea of Andean cyclical temporality, emphasizing that the contemporary experience of life in the Andes is not separated from the ancestral. Thus, the pallay proved to be-in their eyes-a changing continuity capable of interweaving the past with the present.
Combining these reflections with doing, the "Weaving artists of Cusco" produced the two central pieces that make up the textile installation Ser Pallay at Vigil Gonzales gallery. The Kunan pallaykuna are thirty-two individual weavings that revolve around five thematic axes⁸ that show the importance of the connection-personal and communal-with nature in Andean culture. On the other hand, the communal column loom is a four-meter long warp that emblematizes the collective spirit of the project. This loom traveled through the five communities where the weaving artists come from: it was in Pitumarca with Alipio, in Chinchero with Miriam and Luz Clarita, in Chahuaytire with Cintia and Cristina, then spent a few days in Accha Alta with Celia Sabina to later visit Norma in Patabamba, who finally delivered it to the hands of Hermelinda in Santa Cruz de Sallac. As if it were an exquisite woven corpse, at these "stops" each weaver added a pallay in reaction to the one immediately preceding. Now, installed in the gallery, the two pieces function as a single expanding body. Thus, far from being a finished product, Ser Pallay is inhabited by the process: an anteroom records the most important moments of the meetings that took place between September and November (placing special emphasis on the journey of collective weaving); while in the middle room the communal column loom makes its appearance, which, integrated with a backstrap loom, extends to the main gallery where the constellations of the Kunan Pallaykuna are finally born, intertwining personal and collective histories.
Ser Pallay has been a learning process for all the agents involved: artists, curator and gallery. A desire for dialogue and transparency, as well as a concern for the project to "act" in the real world in accordance with what it was proposing at a discursive level, guided each of the decisions taken. In this line, the most important bet was to give prominence to the knowledge and interests of the "Artists weavers of Cusco", who were part of most of the decisions related to exhibiting in a commercial gallery of contemporary art. This seemingly symbolic gesture gave rise to a series of profound redefinitions, both in the way in which collaborative relationships between academically trained artists and traditional artists have normally been conceived in our milieu, as well as in the aesthetic hierarchies that differentiate art from craft. The impact that Ser Pallay will have on its artists is yet to be evaluated. However, at first glance it is clear that the space for the exchange of knowledge generated around the project has produced mixed and collaborative vocabularies that position the pallay as a powerful tool to give an account of the present.
1. I have used "textile artists" for lack of a better translation for the term "fiber artist". Fiber artists" give preponderance to manual labor and materials. In addition, they often work with mediums historically considered "handmade, domestic and feminine" by the art world establishment, such as: fabrics, yarns, and natural and synthetic fibers.
2. The CTTC is a pioneer organization in the rescue, revitalization and sustainable practice of Peru's ancestral textiles directed by Nilda Callañaupa. Currently the CTTC works with ten weaving communities in the Cusco region: Accha Alta, Acopia, Chahuaytire, Chinchero, Huacatinco, Mahuaypampa, Patabamba, Pitumarca, Santa Cruz de Sallac and Santo Tomás de Chumbivilcas.
3. A total of 10 Saturday meetings were organized, eight face-to-face and two virtual. The meetings, which started at eight in the morning and lasted until three in the afternoon, combined reflection and action. In addition, the Ser Pallay work team met twice more to decide together on the gallery installation.
4. To this day, each weaving community identifies with certain pallay, which they reproduce in most of their textiles.
5. I owe these reflections on the marginalization of textiles from local art historical narratives to a recent paper by art historian Natalia Majluf entitled "Textiles/Art: An Essay on Aesthetic Categories in Twentieth-Century Peru. The paper was presented online in the context of a series of conferences organized by the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz -KHI, to reflect on the visual arts/cultures and aesthetic practices created in the Americas.
6. "Artistas tejedorxs del Cusco" is the way in which the weaving artists participating in Ser Pallay asked to be referred to in all communications related to the project.
7. During 2019 María José was in charge of the Education Department of the Traditional Textiles Center of Cusco (CTTC) and Verovcha held the position of Digital Communities Manager at Awamaki.
8. For lack of space I will not be able to give a detailed description of the nuclei of meaning that make up the Kunan pallaykuna. However, here are the titles: Pachamama Pampachaway [Forgiveness to Pachamama], Wiqeywanmi kay Pachata ch'aqchuni kusisqa" [With my tears of happiness I am watering the earth], Uywakunaq tinkuynin awaynikupi [Meeting of the animals in our weaving], Pacha Kutiy [Return to the earth], Chiqaq chanin awasqayku mana hayk'aq tukukuq [Our weaving is strong and valuable, it transcends].
9. The "Weaving Artists of Cusco" participated in the conceptualization of the textile pieces and their installation in the gallery. On the other hand, the fees for the project were shared equally by all. Finally, in case the project is sold, the income will be shared among the Ser Pallay team.