Harmony and Unity

​Review of Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon at Seattle Art Museum by Evelyn Seo


Seattle Art Museum has outdone itself once again after the Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion exhibition during the summer. If the past exhibition was a look out into the future, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon is a look back into the past.

Although the artwork in this exhibition represents three thousand years of history and showcases different cultures expressed in different forms, there is one underlying theme holding everything together: harmony.

According to the exhibition guide, Peru’s ancient Andean civilizations valued the unity between two opposing sides — unlike other cultures around the world, which held more significance in the differences between things. In the exhibition, the ancient civilizations’ works are excellent examples of the efforts the artisans of the past put into showing this idealistic unity.

The most prominent example is perhaps the Sican culture’s ‘Double-spout vessel decorated with human figures and snake heads,’ which melds two spouts into one vessel with delicate patterns and miniature statues. The most interesting point about this piece is the simplicity that prevails over the intricate and complex patterns. As I observed the piece, I was at first only able to pay attention to the details of the vessel, such as the shape of the holes. But when I took a step back and just looked, the patterns gathered together to form one simple, unified display. And the beauty of its simplicity simply overwhelmed me.

As anyone would notice if they walked around the exhibit, a significant amount of the pieces on display are made out of flashy materials such as gold or silver. But it never seem like too much. Why is that?

The “Frontal ornament with feline head and octopus tentacles ending in catfish heads,” otherwise known as Peru’s “Mona Lisa,” embodies the reason these pieces do not seem extravagant. Just like Mona Lisa’s ethereal smile, the ornament captures its audience through its geometric unity by the usage of decalcomania. The two sides are so identical with each other to the point that it’s as if the artist simply made one side of the ornament and copied it over — copy and paste, copy and paste.

The appreciation of harmony seems to have been carried into the more modern day Peru. For example, the sculpture named “Virgin of the Fifth Seal” made in the 18th century showcases the balance between Spanish and Peru's native cultures. Although the Peruvian artist sculpts Virgin Mary, her appearance is unlike the ones from Europe. Other images of Virgin Mary were always with her in soft, light colors to represent her purity and ultimate good. But this piece chose to show the harmony between both good and evil; she is seen with both light and dark colors on and has fair skin with dark hair.

This whole exhibit was an eye-opener for me. After the exhibition, I discovered a whole new world of unity in our own culture. For those who haven’t visited the exhibit, I would highly recommend it. Who knows? You might just figure out what all those gurus’ talk about yin and yang is really all about.

Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon
Seattle Art Museum
Through January 5, 2014

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