MAGIC FEATHERS



Eight Pelicans
Tunic
Chimu culture, north coast of Peru
c. 1100-1460 AD
127 x 61 cm (50 x 24 in), natural cream-beige Peruvian coastal cotton, gossypium barbadense, with applied feathers of the Muscovy duck, guanay and tanager

Eight pelicans are depicted in a serial imagery format so that every area of the composition is of equal importance. In ancient Peru the bird was a highly venerated symbol, as is amply described by the Spanish chroniclers.That birds should elicit such admiration was logical: their dual existence on the earth and in the sky was exemplified by the transcendental drama of flight, which took them from this world into the unknown realm of the heavens.

Many of the sea birds made an especially vital contribution in ancient Peruvian life, as the source of the fertilizing guano, the chalky-white bird droppings whose colossal accumulations on the offshore islands were described by the Spanish chronicler Cieza de Leon as looking like "peaks of snow-covered mountains".

In this composition, the irregular dark shapes of the eight pelicans silhouetted in profile against the uniform creamy-white ground make an immediate visual impact. Like virtually all ancient Peruvian feather textile art, the graphic surface is two-dimensional, although in some compositions one detects artists seeming to hinting at suggestions of spatial depth.


Text and illustration © Textile & Art Publications 1997:
not to be reproduced without permission.

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