Museums in South America
Peru is full of amazing archaeology, and also has an almost embarrassing quantity of remarkably good museums. Sadly, this made me into a hyper-critical observer of these museums. Is it acceptable for museums nowadays, especially ones with incredible collections, just to have rooms full of impressive pieces, with very little explanation or commentary? It’s also frustrating how little attention is paid to how non-elite people actually existed: all these amazing tombs and artefacts came from somewhere, so what happened to the people who made them, or who grew the food to feed the people who did?
In the last post, I complained about the Museo de Tumbas Reales in Lambayeque, which I suppose is a little unfair, given that the entire place is there to house an especially large collection of very shiny things, and how little is known about the Moche people themselves, as opposed to their elites. There is a stark contrast with the Museo Brüning just down the road, though: that has an interesting exhibit on a recent discovery of a tomb with seven female skeletons, and how this may mean that the traditional view of the Moche as a completely male-dominated culture could be completely wrong.
So, in no particular order, here are some museums of note that I may have forgotten to mention.
In Chile, Santiago’s Museo de Arte Precolumbino has organised a balanced overview of all of Middle and South America, as well as a room with an interesting collection devoted to Chile. Everything is well explained, and it’s also in a lovely building. Perhaps it's only possible to do this somewhere that isn't dominated by a single historical culture, as Cusco is by the Incas; Lambayeque by the Moche; and so on.
Museo de Arte Precolumbino: a llama, an extremely creepy statue of a man (or god?)
dressed in a monkey's skin, a quipu, and a Chancay vase
The Museo Larco in Lima has an astounding collection, and yet managed to leave me feeling rather annoyed with the curation. Nothing outside its walls is ever mentioned, even in passing; as though all you need to understand everything in the world is there. If you don’t have much time or want to save money, you can pretend to be going to the cafe and just sneak into the Erotic Pottery gallery without having to pay.
Museo Larco: a cheerful shark god, upbeat dog, decapitator god with severed head, and a jewelled neckpiece
The Amano Textile Museum in Lima is wonderful: it has a clear focus, displays quite amazing pieces, and explains a lot of what’s going on, both regarding the (incredibly complicated) weaving techniques and the various cultures that produced them. There’s also a small gallery of ceramics, some of which are more impressive than anything at the Larco. It does, however, commit the mortal sin of displaying a timeline using a pie chart.
Amano: worst pie chart ever, hand-woven gauzes and fabric, stripy Nazca pot
The National University of Trujillo Archaeological Museum has, unsurprisingly, quite a lot of Moche portrait vessels, but also some ceramics from other periods. There's also an absolutely horrific mummy on very public display that I won't post a picture of. It's a good example of how certain people modified the shape of their skulls by strapping planks to their children's heads, if you're into that kind of thing.
Trujillo: Moche portrait vessel, creepy child vase, Chimu owl, bird with severed head, Chancay bird
The Cusco Folk Art Museum is notable more for the museum itself than its contents, but is a good place to shelter from rainstorms in. I was particularly taken by the self-satisfied grin on every photo, bust, and statue (and there were several) of the founder, and a striking set of portraits of all of the board members had my interest for longer than most of the artwork.
The Centro de Textiles Traditionales de Cusco has a lovely, although small, museum explaining how traditional textiles are still made and used, and often has women weaving. The (non-profit) organisation works with weaving communities to support Cusqueñan textile traditions and the indigenous people who create them.
In Ecuador, Cuenca has some of Ecuador’s best museums, according to the Lonely Planet. I hope this is just more inaccurate reporting, but what we saw wasn’t terribly impressive after coming from Peru. The Museo de Pumapungo has a refreshing section devoted to ethnic minorities in Ecuador, but it’s hard work if you don’t read Spanish. The section on shamans was impenetrable; and I’m not certain about the ethics of having actual shrunken heads in museums nowadays. The building itself is wonderfully Wes Anderson.
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