Gold and the Incas is the current summer blockbuster exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Billed as following on from their previous summer blockbuster exhibitions, you migh expect it to be a crowded event where you can hardly see any of the exhibits.
It isn’t. The event has failed to capture the public imagination, meaning that you can actually see the exhibits properly, there’s none of this booking a hurried one hour timeslot, etc etc.
Although billed as ‘Gold and the Incas’ it isn’t really about gold. Nor is it purely about the Incas. Sure, there are some quite impressive mysterious pieces of gold, but much more interestingly there’s a fine range of ceramics and some quite remarkable textiles – mantles, mummy wrappings and tunics from somehwere in the early BC through to a hundred or so years before the Spanish arrival.
The textiles are the most interesting – you can actually see how they were made of individual panels carefully sewn together – using a pole loom they could only weave pieces of cloth a metre or so wide.
Also strangely fascinating is a mummy wrapping from somewhere around 1AD whose patterns echo the pattern of the flags used by the Quechua and Ayamara people today to proclaim their identity. Or perhaps that should be the other way around, but either way it serves to demonstrate how, wehn looking at the cultures of Peru we are looking at a continuum, not set of discrete cultures.
The other thing is it’s not just about the Incas, but also about the other cultures of Peru, the Chimu, the Wari and more.
The exhibition draws on a number of Peruvian museums including the various outstations of the National museum, meaning that you actually see more in one place in Canberra than you would on a single trip to Lima and Cusco. The exhibits are well chosen and truly give a flavour of these pre conquista cultures.