Images of Peru

As a visual artist, I am drawn to the story of Occidental conquest that systematically changed aboriginal cultures across the globe. Blake Andrews’ “Navel of World” (EW, 4/25) is a stunning description of the current photography exhibit “Photography In Cusco 1895-1945” on display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum through May 19.

I recently visited Cusco, Peru, the ancient capital of the Inca and the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America. An hour after descending from the airplane in Cusco, its implacable, modernist roar was still in my ears. Consequently, when I strolled into the Plaza de Armas, where descendants of the Incas were taking part in a colorful festival, I felt chronologically confused.

In my ears the 21st century whirred, but before my eyes was a scene that would have been right at home for the nine photographers featured in the Schnitzer exhibit.

Perhaps the most striking indigenes of all were the masked children, those playful and beautiful cousins of adults. With their red and black costumes decked with streamers of colorful wool, even with little bells of copper and silver, they seemed to tread the Earth with scornful pride.

Little by little, the airplane roar yielded to the staccato, purring-clicking sibilance of a strange language rising into the thin, cool air around me. Quechua, the ancient tongue of western South America, still exists even though the empire lasted a short time after Pizarro’s 1532 invasion, and the changes that came with the downfall are illustrated in this excellent photo exhibit.

Mike E. Walsh