Some of the most interesting objects in Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes are textiles, especially men’s tunics. This week the Cleveland Museum of Art will welcome two textile artists from Ayacucho, Peru, the region once governed by the Wari civilization. Saturnino and Vilma Oncebay—who speak both Spanish and Quechua, one of the major indigenous languages of Peru—have been investigating the weaving techniques and designs of their Wari ancestors for many years and will perform weaving demonstrations for visitors to the exhibition. Brother and sister, they are members of a family of noted textile specialists who include foot loom and back-strap loom weavers, as well as spinners, designers, embroiderers, and dyers. While here, they will have the opportunity to stu!
dy the Wari-style textiles in the exhibition and also to examine textiles in the museum’s permanent collection.
Saturnino and Vilma are looking forward to their first visit to the United States and to what they can learn here. The chance to watch and interact with them will offer museum visitors a rare opportunity to link the unknown artists represented in the exhibition to the individual faces and hands of two of their contemporary descendants. I will be on hand to translate between Spanish and English.
Weaving was one of humankind’s earliest technologies, known in all parts of the world. It is a complex process that turns fiber from its raw state into a flexible, durable, and often beautiful fabric that can be used to clothe bodies, wrap or carry food and objects, and perform ritual functions. Early humans learned to spin locally available animal or plant fiber into yarn and to dye it with natural colorants from sources like roots, leaves, insects, or minerals.
Weaving occurred on various types of looms. One was the backstrap loom, which was attached on one end to a post or tree and on the other end to the weaver’s own body by means of a belt-like strap that passes behind and around the weaver’s lower back. Another type was the rigid four-post loom in which the loom’s four corners are tied to stakes hammered into the ground. (The European foot loom, which can produce larger pieces, was introduced by the Spanish in the 16th century.) Contemporary Andean weavers still use these types of looms along with cotton, alpaca fiber, and natural dyes to create bags, belts, shawls, ponchos, and domestic goods in both traditional and modern styles, color schemes, and designs.
You can meet and talk with the Oncebays at the museum between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. on November 16, 17, and 18. There may even be a few alpacas outside the museum on the 17th and 18th!
-- Laura Martin