Over the years I have collected, for the cork board that hangs above my desk, images that are meaningful to me. Sometimes the meaning is that they relate, in some way, to something I’ve written. I’ve just added the below postcard:
The weekend before last I went to Canberra for the ‘Gold and the Incas: Lost Worlds of Peru‘ exhibition, where I bought the postcard after seeing the vessel it depicts. While the Inkas did work with gold, as the exhibition title suggests, most of their art was melted down into ingots by sixteenth-century Spaniards. One of the Spanish chroniclers, Pedro Cieza de León, described Qurikancha, their ‘Golden Enclosure’. This temple of the sun had walls and floors covered in sheets of gold and the temple’s garden was made entirely of gold, including llamas and the shepherds who guarded them; corn, with stalks, leaves and ears all fashioned from gold; and even clods of earth.
But what gold artefacts exist today are mostly those that have been dug up from the coastal desert, and these were crafted by cultures that preceded the Inkas, among them the Moche/Mochica, Chimu and Lambayeque/Sican. The exhibit’s layout, conscious of this in spite of the exhibition’s title, was astute: even though it advanced chronologically, it didn’t end with the Inka artifacts; instead, after them it included some spectacular pieces from the cultures represented in previous (earlier) spaces.
The vessel depicted above was made by the Nasca (100 BCE to 800 CE). It depicts the same figure that I wrote about in my essay for Meanjin, the Mythological Killer Whale, though in that case in its representation as a sixty-five-metre Nasca Line only visible from the air:
That mound that you can see at the base of the vessel and the line — the thing that the fin is clutching — is a trophy head. It’s not known, yet, what these were (spoils of war? for tending to ancestors?) but they were important: they were carefully preserved, and often depicted in art.
So, there you have it, another addition to the cork board, one that I was compelled to buy because of the time I’d spent thinking and writing about, in a small part of a small essay, what the postcard depicts.