Anthropologists in Art are proud to present:
– Harvesting the Night at the Star Snow Festival –
WM Gallery Amsterdam September 14th – October 19th, 2013
Opening: Saturday September 14th, 5-7 p.m.
Deep in the Andes, in the isolated Sinakara valley near Cusco, Peru, every year – when the full moon rises a week before Corpus Christi – Quechua- and Aymara-speaking Andeans celebrate the legendary festival of Qoyllur Rit’i; the indigenous fiesta dedicated to the Lord of the Star Snow.
Brazilian photographer Renan Cepeda, who has gained considerable acclaim for his unusual photographic techniques such as infrared photography and light painting, has chosen this religious festival as his next subject for the upcoming show at WM Gallery. Braving the bitter cold of minus 10 degrees at an oxygen-depleted altitude of 4700 metres, together with tens of thousands of pilgrims he made his way through the moonlit mountains to pay tribute to the sunrise at the glaciers just below Apu (Mt.) Culquenpunku. Using an old 1952 twin Rolleiflex lens and 120 6x6 cm films, he asked the pilgrims to pose for one minute, shine a flashlight at the subject, and take the shot. All effects are created at the time of the shot, without any further manipulation. Indeed, Cepeda’s unique brand of night-photography is a particularly apt method to capture the magic of Qoyllur Rit’í as the pilgrimage always takes place during the largest full moon of the year, when the Pleiades star cluster disappears. Although his subjects readily posed for him, Cepeda could not but notice the sullen looks of defiance of these Inca descendants.
For Qoyllur Rit’í is not simply a manifestation of syncretic (Pre-Columbian and Roman Catholic) religious faith. It is, in fact fraught with the politics of culture, religiosity and opposition to cultural colonisation. Officially, the Church postulated that the origin of the religious pilgrimage started in 1780. In that year, the Indian shepherd boy Mariano Mayta befriended a young mestizo named Manuel while tending his herd of llamas in the Sinakara valley. Manuel fed him and helped him with his herd. Some time later, when Mariano’s father saw the enlarged and well-fed herd of llamas, he told his son to buy himself and his friend a new set of clothes. Carrying a scrap of Manuel’s poncho to Cusco, it turned out that only the Archbishop wore such cloth and, immediately, a Church commission went up to the mountain where Manuel lived. When the delegation came up to the young mestizo, he was shining with a radiant light. On trying to grab hold of him, one delegate found himself holding a crucifix. Mariano, thinking that they had killed his friend, died on the spot and was buried under a rock nearby. Church officials later had a crucified Christ painted onto the rock, which by then had become a place of worship for the local peasant populace.
1780 is, incidentally, the year of the religio-cultural rebellion of Tupác Amaru against the very same Church official who recognised Manuel’s scrap of clothing: the Archbishop; His Excellency Moscoso! It seems likely that the Church was responsible for the fabrication of the legend in an attempt to co-opt an existing indigenous fiesta; the pre-Columbian festival of Oncoymita, in which the Incas honoured the cyclical disappearance of the Pleiades star-cluster (Quechua: Oncoy), for the preservation the cornfields and the transition of the old year to the new. This annual disappearance of the Pleiades (roughly from April 24th to June 9th) was furthermore the symbolic and ritualised period of chaos (pachacuti), the transition between the old world and the new, the time of healing, regeneration and civilisation.
It would appear that the fiesta of Qoyllur Rit’í, under the thin veneer of Roman Catholicism, is a continuation of Inca cosmology, of the unity of time and space, of the cyclical calendar of Inca dominion in the past, the present time of cultural colonialism, and the future of Inca resurrection; the moment when the mythical Inca king Inkarrí will drive the Spanish out and the reign of civilisation will last for 500 years.
With QOYLLUR RIT’Í – Harvesting the Night at the Star Snow Festival – Renan Cepeda has captured the magic and mystery that abounds in one of the most spectacular religious festivals in South America, that serves as a vehicle for the prolongation of pre-Columbian cosmology and the cultural defiance of the descendants of the once mighty Inca empire.
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