Curriculum links Visual Arts

The identities of the artists whose outstanding skills are showcased in this major exhibition of Peruvian art are unknown to us today. These artists were highly valued members of society and used sophisticated technologies to make works of art across a range of media. Their important role is highlighted by the fact that when Chimú artists were kidnapped by the Incas and deported to Cuzco, they were seized so rapidly that archaeologists found cooking pots still on the hearths and gold ingots abandoned in the ground.

In ancient Peru gold and silversmiths were perceived as direct intermediaries between gods and humans. They were seen as magicians familiar with complex processes that could transform the elements of nature into dazzling objects in the image of the gods. These artists were often buried in privileged places along with their sacred tools. Even though the conquering Spanish considered that gold was the most highly prized commodity in Peru, textiles were the pinnacle of creative achievement to Andean peoples. Their importance has ensured a wealth of finds preserved in burial sites throughout the arid desert regions. Textiles were an influencing medium for other arts and were made in both domestic environments and state supported textile workshops.

The ceramics found in the exhibition feature complex compositions displaying the technical mastery of the artists. The portrait pots made by the Moche are a rare instance of an ancient civilisation producing lifelike depictions of real people and are one of the great artistic achievements of Andean civilisations. The individuals portrayed were members of the ruling elite, priests, warriors and renowned artisans, some of whom were portrayed at different moments throughout their lives.

The desire for artists to distinguish their work from another can be seen on the adobe bricks used by coastal cultures to build major structures. These bricks display a range of abstract marks that served as their maker's signatures. The marks confirm that even though the bricks would be used in a construction for the state the maker's mark was an important personal addition. Huari textiles also sometimes include an intentional anomaly as though the maker wished to personalise the design.

The artisans of ancient Peru included in their works complex religious and political ideas based on the importance of the natural world. Their creative energy produced outstanding works of art that reveal much about what life was like in Peru hundreds of years ago.

Focus: years 7+8

The Gold and the Incas: Lost worlds of Peru exhibition has strong links with a number of content descriptions in the 7 to 8 year band of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts, Visual Arts (draft) and can be related to making and responding, specifically:

  • Present artworks demonstrating consideration of how display can communicate the artist’s intention to an audience, reflecting social relationships between cultures in Australia
  • Analyse how artists use visual conventions in artworks
  • Identify and connect specific features and purposes of visual artworks from contemporary and past times to explore viewpoints starting with visual arts in Australia, including visual arts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Focus: years 9+10

In the year 9 and 10 band of the curriculum the most relevant content descriptions are:

  • Present and evaluate curatorial ideas for the displaying artworks to enhance the relationship between the artist and audience and to communicate with and challenge an audience
  • Analyse a range of visual artworks from contemporary and past times to explore differing viewpoints and enrich their visual art-making, starting with visual artworks from Australia, including visual artworks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and consider visual artworks in international contexts
  • Conceptualise and develop representations of themes, concepts or subject matter to explore their developing personal style, reflecting on the styles of artists including Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander artists
When visiting the Gold and the Incas exhibition it is recommended to also visit the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) galleries, including the Aboriginal Memorial and compare the way the curatorial teams have separated cultures in the Gold and the Incas exhibition and regions in the ATSI galleries to assist in understanding the context of the displays.

Responding to visual arts

Choose one or two of the following to investigate and respond to:
  • How important was clothing and body adornment in indicating social status in ancient Peru? Consider the choice of materials and design in communicating each individual's place in the social hierarchy. Choose a pectoral and tunic in the Gold and the Incas exhibition and research the symbolism of the materials and design of each.
  • Investigate the method of making and building with adobe bricks in ancient Andean culture. Examine the Paracas Mantle with stepped pattern c. 100-200 AD and the Moche Flared vessel 100-800 AD to discover how architectural elements were transformed into stylised textile and ceramic design.
  • Read about the significance of the Moche portrait pot as a source of cultural information. Study the details of two of the portrait pots in the exhibition and list features that can be found in other media in the exhibition. Why do you think the portrait depictions changed over time?
  • The objects in the Gold and the Incas exhibition were not intended to be displayed in an art gallery and were instead made to be used in ceremony or as grave goods for a member of the elite. How is the original intention of the objects changed and enhanced by the relocation to an art museum and through the exhibition layout and display? Expand your discussion about exhibition display by researching the National Gallery of Australia's acquisition/commissioning and siting of the Aboriginal Memorial. How does the Memorial's new location enhance visitors' understanding of the context of the installation and alter or adjust the meaning, purpose and significance of the individual hollow log coffins and the work as a whole?
  • Written communication was not a feature of ancient Andean cultures. Research works of art in the Gold and the Incas exhibition depicting the Lord of Sicán such as the funerary mask or beaker with chrysocolla inlay or those objects incorporating a chequerboard design to understand how visual conventions assisted with the consistency of message in ancient Peru.
  • Compare and contrast the worldview and creation stories of ancient Peru with those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To learn more read the online entries for the Moche nose ornaments and other objects in the exhibition that are made out of silver, gold or combinations of both. In the National Gallery's collection read about Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri's Moon Dreaming and Rising sun chasing the night away and Gulumbu Yunipingu's bark painting Garak, The Universe or watch the video on YouTube of Garak I (The Universe)

Making visual works of art

Choose one or two of the following to investigate and respond to:
  • Design and create a textile with feather ornamentation inspired by examples in the Gold and the Incas exhibition. Experiment with materials to develop a technique to securely attach feathers to your textile referring to some of the online catalogue entries. Investigate the rationale for the inclusion of feathers in some objects in ancient Peru and develop concepts around how and why you use them in your work. What important points should you be considering if incorporating feathers in your work of art?
  • Design an unku that would fit a Moche artisan using materials and techniques from ancient Peru. Draw the design onto tracing paper. Take into account the body shape of the individual, their height and thermal requirements. Using works of art from the exhibition as inspiration consider the fibre you would use to make your textile and the motifs you would incorporate in your design.
  • Design and produce a painting inspired by one of the weft-faced textiles in the Gold and the Incas exhibition. Limit your palette to those colours used to dye fibres in ancient Peru. Evaluate the technique required to transfer the textile design onto paper or canvas. What did you find challenging about this process?
  • Using the repoussé technique design and make a metal beaker as used in ritual ceremonies or a forehead ornament to attach to a burial mantle. Choose motifs inspired by a work of art in the exhibition in any media.
  • Design and fabricate a simple bracelet inspired by the Chancay open weave textiles. Discuss how textiles provided an important source of inspiration for Andean artists and in this case how fishing practises were referenced in a multitude of ways.
  • Create a stirrup handled pot originally designed to hold corn beer, known as chicha, using methods utilised by the Moche potters. Read a number of catalogue entries to learn more about the techniques that these artists employed before the potter's wheel was introduced.
  • Break into groups and fashion a simple loom to resemble the examples used by Andean weavers. Choose either a self-tensioning back-strap loom, vertical loom or horizontal ground loom where the loom bars are tied and tensioned to stakes pounded into the ground. More information about ancient Peruvian textiles can be found in the Gold of the Incas catalogue. Work as a team to create a simple textile by learning how to twist fibres and set up a loom.

Responding to visual arts

Choose one or two of the following to investigate and respond to:
  • As a class, discuss the symbolism of the internal space within stirrup-spouted vessels in the Gold and the Incas exhibition and the connection between this interior and the exterior world. Discuss the way that ritual fluids such as corn beer were poured into the vessel and the subsequent circulatory flow when liquid was poured from the vessel. Consider how this can be linked to the moment of death and be important for the role of ceramics as burial goods.
  • Research the variety of ceramics made by the Moche. What were the significant artistic achievements of the Moche potters? What materials did Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples use to make vessels to transport liquids?
  • Investigate the mortuary rites practised by Andean peoples and the Indigenous peoples of Arnhem Land. Visit the National Gallery of Australia's Aboriginal Memorial to discover more about the hollow log coffin ceremony. How do mortuary ceremonies help us to understand the worldview of various cultures?
  • Research the use of fibre in the work of contemporary Indigenous artists, Yvonne Koolmatrie or Rex Greeno. How have these artists reinvigorated traditional Indigenous fibre arts? Where is their work displayed in Australia and why do you think this is so? As a comparison, study the history of fibre production in Peru by referring to the fibre section of the Gold and the Incas Design and Technology online education resource. What factors influenced the development of fibre production in Peru and how did this differ from the use of fibre across Indigenous Australia?
  • When visiting the Gold and the Incas exhibition note the exhibition design including layout, lighting and colour. You will notice the difference in lighting level between display and access spaces. How is this effect created, what is the rationale for this feature of the exhibition design and how does it impact on the visitor experience?
  • Discuss the title of the exhibition and the number of cultures represented in the display. Why do you think this particular title was chosen? How can the title of the exhibition influence visitation to the exhibition?
  • Read about the Early Western Desert art movement. Where were the designs on the paintings from this region originally used? How did the ceremonial activities of ancient Andean people differ from the Indigenous people of central Australia?
  • Research Mario Testino's recent exhibition in Lima, Alta Moda and compare his photographs with the textiles in the Gold and the Incas exhibition to see how he was inspired by ancient Peruvian fibre arts. To develop this group of photographs Mario Testino used recreated backdrops from the archive of the late Peruvian photographer, Martin Chambi. Compare the photographic approach of Mario Testino and Martin Chambi after viewing a selection of works of art in the Gold and the Incas exhibition and discuss whether their work is an affirmation of culture or a poignant reminder of cultural loss?
  • Compare and contrast the design of contemporary canoes made by Australian artist, Rex Greeno and the reed canoes used by seafaring Andean people. Study the Inca object in the Gold and the Incas exhibition —Vessel in the form of a man on a reed raft and further information about Rex Greeno's canoes on the National Museum of Australia's website.

Making visual works of art

Choose one or two of the following to write about or create a work of art. Then work as a group to plan an exhibition, developing curatorial ideas and discussing relationships between works communicated through placement and juxtapositions within the exhibition arrangement.
  • Research textiles in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection when you are visiting the Gallery. Write an exhibition review of this display comparing and contrasting with the textiles in the Gold and the Incas exhibition. Make reference to textile history, symbolism and the intention of each display.
  • Research the design and materials used to make the contemporary masks of George Nona or Alick Tipoti. Compare the function and intention of these masks with those found in the Gold and the Incas exhibition. Make your own ceremonial mask inspired by the materials, techniques and symbolism of ancient Peruvian artists or contemporary artists from the Torres Strait. You may like to use the technique of repoussé or make your mask out of cotton embellished with found items, natural pigments and textile bands using a combination of techniques. To extend your research further read more about the role of masks in ceremony in Melanesia (Gable mask) and the United States (Hopi mask) and also discover how the Surrealists were influenced by other cultures. You could reinterpret these masks by making a linocut of a mask influenced by your research or make a composite mask using fibre.
  • Discover more about the shell necklaces made by Indigenous artists from Tasmania. Shells were also highly symbolic materials in ancient Andean cultures and played a major role in myth and religion. Read about the Moche spondylus pectoral and Cupisnique chrysocolla and conch shell pectoral. Design and make a necklace considering the sustainability of the materials and the symbolism of the design and materials.
  • Research the process of making a portrait pot by reading the online entry for the Moche Stirrup vessel in the form of a cormorant. Fashion your own portrait pot using the same processes and include an animal and other ornamentation inspired by the Gold and the Incas exhibition.
  • Research the role of the shaman in ancient Peru. Design a shaman figure to incorporate into a collaborative textile or painting. Ensure that your shaman's body has both animal and human characteristics and that the figure also holds symbolic objects. Add a border to provide a striking contrast to the central field of the design.
  • Develop a design to be painted onto a piece of cotton fabric using natural pigments referencing a major theme in the exhibition such as duality, the three worlds, social status, landscape or architecture. Plan the process with the assistance of preparatory drawings. Distil your design into a stylised form.
  • As the culmination of the Gold and the Incas public program, the National Gallery of Australia will hold a Fiesta on the 7 and 8 March 2014. Research the history of the Fiesta in Peruvian society and its relationship to Andean culture. The class could plan a Fiesta for your school inspired by some of the key themes in the Gold and the Incas exhibition. Talk about the role of costuming, food, colour, music, filur, music, film and dance. Your class could design and make a variety of costumes and other body adornments such as pectorals. Or use this as an opportunity to investigate ceremony and ritual of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and/or other cultures and traditions that continue in contemporary Australia and across the world.