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Artistic traditions of Peru

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Machu Picchu in Peru
The city of Cuzco is home to beautiful Incan buildings as well as the famous archeological city of Machu Picchu, a spectacular geological structure now considered one of the seven Wonders of the World
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Peru's diverse, multi-ethnic cultures meld to create exotic art.

Anything that has a tribal feel to it, especially art, has grown hugely popular in recent years as more people take adventure vacations abroad and want to bring home a piece of their travels. From eco-tourists to the fashion world, tribal objects, art and other inspired pieces are highly valued as people desire to preserve and protect histories and cultures. 

As a form of communication, the arts - particularly folk art - convey the many facets of a culture's belief system. Peruvian folk art is an expression of how a society worships, passes down ancestral traditions and shares love, dreams and fears. Items such as pottery, woodworking and textiles not only serve practical functions but they are carefully-crafted visual art pieces as well.

Artistic Traditions of Peru

Few countries are as culturally unique as Peru. The South American country has the world's most diverse and richest cultures, known for eclectic styles, creative pieces and various mediums. Art is a way of life for entire communities in Peru; it's used to tie the past to the present and to create income.

The country was home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world, most notably the Norte Chico and Incan Empire. Looking for gold and silver, the Spanish conquered Peru in the 16th century, which brought European influence to all areas of Peruvian tribal life and art, the country's main form of communication.

The artistic traditions of Peru date back to its pre-Incan beginnings. Although the current population (about 28 million) has been culturally shaped by its Incan ancestors and strong Spanish influence, the country is now a melting pot of indigenous natives, Amerindians, Africans, non-Hispanic Europeans and Asians. These multi-ethnicities are now interwoven to create an eclectic mix of artistic expression that is simultaneously ancient and modern.

Religion: The Foundation of Peruvian Society

Some of the biggest themes in Peruvian culture and art, even today, are those that display spirituality, religion and ceremony. Artists imbue traditional objects with symbolism reflecting their deep-rooted beliefs. Walking through villages such as Quinoa and Shipibo, you can find handmade and one-of-a-kind earthenware, ornaments, pottery, sculptures and paintings depicting churches, saints and a variety of religious themes from skilled craftsmen.

Christianity - brought from Europe and sometimes fused distinctively with tribal beliefs - is the foundation for much of the artistic traditions of Peru. Depictions of Christ, saints and worshippers are found in everything from highly detailed figures tiny enough to fit on a rosary to elaborate copper sculptures and colorful paintings.

Peru's Main Artistic Expression

According to Peru's Tourism Bureau, pottery is Peru's most widespread art form and is traded heavily in the markets of the capital cities of Lima and Cuzco. Cuzco pottery is a diverse collection of pieces influenced by Incan traditions and Baroque-inspired colonial. There has been a revitalization of Cuzco art, known as Inca Renaissance, which showcases flower motifs, colorful dishes and various types of crockery pieces.

One of the best known pottery figures to emerge from Peru is the popular ceramic bull, called torito de Pucara, from Puno, a city on the banks of Lake Titicaca. Also used as a flask, the bull was originally created as a ritual object during cattle-branding ceremonies.

Other types of Peruvian unique pottery and artistic pieces a collector can pick up for relatively little money are:

  • Carved gourd boxes, called mates burilados, which are highly detailed with agricultural scenes, nature, flowers or animals.
  • Colorful and detailed religious scenes painted onto wooden carvings, called retablos.
  • Textiles and clothing, including softer than cashmere alpaca sweaters, blankets and accessories.
  • Animals brought to life from hand-worked clay.

Decorative folk art, such as paintings and ceramic genre figures, portray a very realistic picture of Peru's culture. Objects mirror true events, societal beliefs and the Peruvian people by emphasizing realistic occupations, religious and secular ceremonies, scenes, regional dress and local beliefs and legends.

Peru's Amazing Architecture

The city of Cuzco is home to beautiful Incan buildings as well as the famous archeological city of Machu Picchu, a spectacular geological structure now considered one of the seven Wonders of the World. Thought to be a site for sacred ceremonies, the site is an artistic wonder. Completely unseen from below, the city site was five square miles and completely self-contained with its own springs and agricultural terraces.  

According to the Tourism Bureau, a person trekking anywhere through Peru will find architectural wonders, beautiful cities or arts-and-crafts villages. The artistic expressions of Peru are immensely diverse from one region to another. You may find yourself 'back in time' while navigating the Incan streets of towns in the Andes, such as Cuzco and the Lake Titicaca area because so much of the artistic traditions have been preserved. Or you may find yourself in very diverse and cosmopolitan cities, such as Lima, where the arts are more heavily influenced by European traditions and contemporary beliefs.

Today, the artists of Peru have merged their various cultures to create exotic pieces that are exceptional in quality and influenced by several cultures, both ancient and modern. They furnish their homes, altars and buildings with wooden or stone carvings, colorful ceramics, ornaments and sculptures as much now as they did in the past.

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