Iconic Chuspas Examined in New Exhibition

Men and boys in a market wearing chuspas, Bolivia, 1968. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

Men and boys in a market wearing chuspas, Bolivia, 1968. Courtesy of the Division of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History.

New York—Colorful tribal woven looks have been popular this spring (and into the fall even). One of the most iconic of these looks in accessories are chuspas, handwoven should bags with tassels are have been work by Andrean natives in South America for centuries.

Worn by adults and children, the chuspas carry a key part of Andean life: coca leaves which contact small amounts of the psychoactive alkaloid, cocaine. By chewing on the leaves Andean natives can traipse long distances across the Andes’ where the oxygen is thinner due to the altitude.

Starting April 11 and running through August 3, The Bard Graduate Center is presenting a special exhibition, Carrying Coca: 1,500 Years of Andean Chuspas, which delves into the history and sociology behind the chuspas.

Rare, Never Seen Before Examples

Curated by Nicola Sharratt, this exhibition highlights the tension between tradition and innovation surrounding these socially important woven objects by presenting chuspas not as representations of a static, indigenous heritage but as “the embodiment of social and economic change.”

In their actual and symbolic connection with coca, chuspas are unique among Andean textiles, essential to cultural practice, social relationships, ritual activity, and political negotiation.

chuspaBy contextualizing chuspas in space and time, Carrying Coca: 1,500 Years of Andean Chuspas not only presents these textiles as traditional woven forms but also considers them as objects central to cultural practice. This exhibition features 33 coca bags, fiber samples, looms, and spinning implements alongside stunning documentary photographs taken during important twentieth-century expeditions to Peru and Bolivia—all drawn together to explore how essential to social relationships, ritual activity, and political negotiation.

Juxtaposing chuspas from the South American textile collections of the American Museum of Natural History that were made more than 1,500 years ago with bags produced as recently as 2013, Carrying Coca presents a story of tradition and transformation.

The exhibition displays both archaeological and ethnographic chuspas—many of which have never before been exhibited. The archaeological pieces represent approximately 1,000 years of the pre-Hispanic past, beginning with the Nazca culture, which flourished on the coast of southern Peru as early as 100 B.C. The ethnographic chuspas demonstrate the ongoing production and use of a particular form of textile directly related to the cultural practice of coca chewing. Collected in the 20th century from communities scattered across the Peruvian and Bolivian highlands, these pieces reveal the diversity and dynamism of Andean textiles.

For more information, see www.bgc.bard.edu.




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