Wari Culture


Wari Culture: Feathers, Color And History

Ana B. Remos


"Feathered Walls: Hangings from Ancient Peru" shows the sophistication of the Wari culture in pre-Colombian Peru.


 

New York and Peru. Color and tradition. Modernity and antiquity. The exhibition Feathered Walls: Hangings from Ancient Peru, an installation of twelve panels from the ancient Wari culture is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City until March 2, 2014. The wall hangings were constructed with iridescent blue and yellow macaw feathers, arranged in geometric designs. The Wari panels are among the most luxurious and unique works created by Peruvian artists before the Spanish conquest.

Walls of Feathers

The history of these artistic treasures dates back to the period between the 7th and 10th centuries, when members of the extinct Wari culture used feathers for decoration and as a symbol of nobility and power. They remained unseen, like a hidden treasure, until some peasants found them in 1943. The 96 panels miraculously survived intact inside ceramic pots buried by the Wari in a sacred place near the town of La Victoria, where the valleys of Ocoña and Churunga converge, in southern Peru.

The beauty of the sleek minimalist design of these art pieces impacted the sensitivity of 20th century artists such as Max Ernst and his wife Dorothea Tanning, who purchased some of the pieces that today dress the walls of the Met.

The Wari civilization is considered one of the first pre-Colombian empires. It is believed that the much larger Inca Empire absorbed the Wari people. “According to the documentation collected, both the Wari culture and, later, the Inca civilization used these works for individual sacrifices,” says Heidi King, a research associate at the Met’s department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. “In both cultures, feathers are considered a sign of luxury.”

Walls of Feathers

The Wari panels are made using a thorough and detailed technique: the feathers are individually knotted on fine cotton fabric, with perfect divisions between blue and yellow squares. The Wari artists used to paste feathers on wood and metal, “but on fabric they applied an even more complicated technique, which consists of a network of knots that keep the feathers fixed on the cloth in many superposed layers,” said King.

These pieces, on loan at the museum, are one of the most atypical and luxurious expressions of art in Peru before the arrival of Spanish colonizers in 1532.

 


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