Peru: A Journey in Time review
Time Out says
Forget the panpipes, because the British Museum is here to show you the real history of Peru. Ok, there are some panpipes here, but there’s also a whole lot of human sacrifice, war, cats, dancing, music and more cats. It’s a wild ride, full of beautiful objects and fascinating history, tracing thousands of years of Peruvian culture. And if you totally ignore how impossible it is to sum up a whole nation’s ancient history in one go, it’s a great exhibition.
Humans settled in Peru 15,000 years ago, and gave birth to a whole bunch of cultures. The Chavin, Nasca, Moche and Inca people made the wild lands of Peru their own, and these objects are the proof they left behind.
A wide eyed copper funerary mask locks eyes with you as you walk in, intensely ushering you into a world of hypnotising ceramics and textiles. There are sharp-ridged vessels in honour of mountain spirits, pots in the shape of cats and snakes and deer, golden headdresses and carved human figures. You immediately notice how varied the aesthetics are: there are thick, abstract shapes and hyper-realistic male faces, exaggeration and realism, all vying for space.
The giant ceremonial drum covered in drawings of corpses is amazing, the 2000 year old tapestry of Nasca birds is staggeringly well preserved, the Moche human portrait vessels are shockingly realistic. There are so many gorgeous things here.
Colonial rule is touched on but not massively, instead this is a celebration of art and culture long before the homogenising touch of European invaders, in all of its varied, trippy glory.
And that variety is the key, because the objects on display here are from multiple cultures, made over thousands of years. Chavin art from 3000 years ago looks different to Moche art made 2000 years ago. Of course it does.
We get stuck thinking that art history started in 1400s Italy, and that everything changed with Monet and then Pollock etc, but shows like this are essential for dragging us out of our simplified, accepted, westernised world views. They make you realise that life is bigger than right now, that humans have made art - and chopped each other's heads off - for thousands and thousands of years. We’re just specks of decapitated dust, floating on the sands of time, to the sound of panpipes.