HUACO portrait of myself

The Huaco portrait is a bottle container with the representation of a human head, whose origin dates back to 110 AD. These vessels are found in funerary contexts, in particular in burials associated with people of high rank, the pieces represent characters of social and econòmic types, the heads of the sick, feelings such as happiness, sadness, among others 1.

The huaco portraits pottery are part of the cultural heritage of Peru that has been the subject of intense illicit traffic on the part of treasure hunters 2 and institutions that under the pretext of investigation and with the approval of local authorities have carried out excavations that have ended with the transfer of the cultural material outside of the Peruvian territory3.

The Peruvian identity is in a state of permanent debate and it is not easy to talk about the elements, objects or symbols that represent it, for instance the term Huaco or Huaco’s face is used as an insult with racist connotations. Peru was colonized in the 16th century as a consequence of this process western beauty patterns were imposed, so the Peruvians, despite not being western, have internalized the idea that this is the only canon of beauty, so the word Huaco is related negatively to the color of the material with which the vessels are made (clay), the skin tone of the vast majority of Peruvians and the depiction of their physical characteristics4.

On one hand the Huacos portraits and other artifacts are well documented, preserved and treated as desirable items by art collectors and museums. However another treatment is reserved for the human beings to whom this cultural heritage belongs. Here the collections in museums have their origins in exercising metropoli-colonial relationships, the same violence is applied to those who present themselves at the borders of these countries.

The Huaco portrait is not a relic of the past, but it is a source of complex historical, cultural, social and political affaires, it is an artifact of the precolumbian culture that embedded many meanings. The use of new technologies allow the reproduction of this artefact and all their contradictions.

KASK & CONSERVATORIUM School of Arts Gent,
November, 2021.