The ecumenical powers of colonial sixteenth century South America treated the Andean people as infidels. In the capital of the Inca Empire Cuzco, the Roman Catholic Church established a propaganda machine designed to convert and spread Christianity overtly. In those rugged high mountain valleys abundant with ancient cultural heritage and craftsmanship, Catholic priests and bishops recognized the potential for enlisting conscripts to art school. Quetchua Indians were trained to draw and sketch religious icons and deities. These paintings were later hung in churches and monasteries to expose and indoctrinate the population with hardcore Catholicism. This group of Quetchua Indians and later Mestizos became known as the “Escuela Cuzqueña.”
On the steps of the old Cuzco cathedral in the “Plaza de Armas,” I could faintly hear a procession closing in at a distance, the thin moldy air struggled to reach my lungs, like breaths trying to catch up with the lifting veil of majestic peaks.
This generation of painters studied the European masters. They developed a unique style of perspective, which flattened out their work. Like an effect, disproportionate anatomical differences were intentionally fitted in the religious figures. The distortion of red, yellow earth colors and abusive gold leafing of garments made these paintings bizarre and alien. These artists became the first American trend makers as they added salient new accessories and features to mannerist design.
The guide hurried the tour group to a poorly lit cathedral cove. Pointing his finger to a grazing llama in the background of a painting, he uttered: “Certain licenses were taken by these artists, as you can see; they added typical valley mountain imagery, flora, and fauna into the religious motifs.” A rebel group of Cuzqueño painters resisted the Catholic thematic imposition and became cultural activists portraying Inca monarchs instead of religious saints. This way they could re-vindicate ancestral pride and heritage. Among their portrait paintings, you can find a redundant focus on archangels. This might reflect ancient angel prophecies of the Incas which anticipated a period of great transformation. According to their complex calendars, this shift would take place in the early part of the twenty-first century at a time when archangels would descend on Earth. Knowingly the angel deity voluntarily comes from the heavens to bring about peace and heal the world.
Despite these glorious saviors, this body of prophecies predicts that up to two-thirds of humanity will not make it. Early warning signs are hanging inside cathedral walls within the city of the puma. Like the archangels, we will step forward and take action before we destroy Earth. It would be in our best interest to return to proper stewardship of this lovely planet and all its life forms. Like a living system that can no longer sustain a parasitic invasion, the Earth will find a way to heal itself or die. Organisms achieve this by neutralizing the toxic agents, which in this case is the post-industrial consumer locust we have become. Like our own body’s immune response, the archangels of the Cuzqueño school are the antibodies, warriors of the apocalypse, defiant and dressed in battle gear, they have come to the rescue. Will we join them voluntarily and help eliminate the infection?
In a not well-visited corner of the cathedral gallery, built directly on top of the foundation of the Inca Wirachocha’s chamber, was a prophetic painting, depicting the Virgin Mary with the sun, several moons, and other solar gods hovering like UFOs over the horizon. These supposedly announce the end of time. Time was understood differently by the pre-Inca and Inca cultures.
In the West, we think we own the land and we live obsessively chasing time. For the Incas, this idea was reversed. They owned time but “Mother Land” owned them. This is why it’s rare to see local people traveling anywhere beyond their most immediate village. For the Cuzqueños the Virgin Mary was the mother world goddess. This way they revered the feminine, the Pacha Mama. For the Incas, men and women are equally nurtured by the abundant harvest of Mother Earth, not like the outcast Biblical myth which treats Earth and the feminine more like a damnation.
Eve stems from Adam’s rib, put here to serve man and because of her “...cursed is the earth, because of you,” then they are both kicked out of paradise and sentenced to sweat and hard work for “...the earth shall produce thorns and thistles.” This myth puts us in competition for scarcity on a hostile planet.
Our final stop that day was at the Koricancha by the courtyard paintings, before an oracular piece by a later Cuzqueño artist. I could roughly recognize the iconography of the Inca deities on the canvas, the fertile creator god Pacha Camac; Inti with a golden disk, rays and a human face; his wife the oval goddess moon; Mama Quilla in contemplative beauty surrounded by the sparkling plethora of feminine goddesses; Mama Allpa, Mama Cocha, Mama Zara; and finally our Earth goddess or Pacha Mama. She is represented by a round luminous body with a wise woman at its center. How did the Cuzqueños learn that the world was spherical? As timekeepers, the Incas did not have land maps. Instead, they had detailed calendars of the sky. Masters at prediction, they discovered that time was like wormholes looping back and forth. For Inca mythology, there could be no end of time, only transformation.
Back at the hotel through the balcony overlooking the plaza burst open a loud pounding battery of drums and trumpets, with brilliant traditional costume displays, colorfully dazzling the stone slated streets. In Cuzco, every day is festive and full of celebration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carlos Cuellar Brown is a New York City media artist and essayist who has written on new media, social theory and metaphysics. His essays have been posted online by Opendemocracy, The Global Dispatches, The Pelican Web, Kosmos Journal, and STARDRIVE.
In 2013 his essay “Intermedial Being” was published by A Journal of Performance and Art PAJ #106 MIT Press Journals. In 2015 Mr. Brown was nominated for the TWOTY awards out of the Netherlands for his essay “Blueprint for Change”. He has been a regular columnist for Second Sight Magazine and Fullinsight.
His book, In Search of Singularity: Reflections and Chronicles from the End of Time, published 29 January 2017, is a series of reflections on the current cultural evolution from competition to cooperation, from patriarchy to reciprocity between humanity and the human habitat.