ART EXHIBITION. Dispatches from the Moche: Paintings by Vicky Arana

First art exhibit at the Embassy of Peru's Art Gallery 2023 season

Dispatches from the Moche: Paintings by Vicky Arana
About the exhibit 
My paintings of Moche motifs are closely based on a wealth of fineline drawings painted on ceramics by Moche graphic artists over more than six centuries (ca. 100-800 CE) and unearthed since the mid-nineteenth century by grave robbers and archaeologists from scores of archaeological sites in northern Peru. Those ceramic vessels are now important components of pre-Columbian collections in museums around the world. Their graphic depictions of Moche life have been made more widely accessible in the past two decades, through the photography of Christopher Donnan.  In collaboration with him, Donna McClelland, also an archaeologist, produced and published rollouts of the pots’ images, samples of which appear in their book Moche Fineline Painting: Its Evolution and Its Artists (1999). To suggest my paintings’ relationship to the archaeologists’ impressive pictorial reproductions of the original Moche art, I have created sidebar panels to accompany each of my paintings. 

To document the hundreds of ceramic vessels he was studying, Donnan took multiple photographs of each one, recording all 360 degrees of its rotated surface. His photographs are numbered and catalogued in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library in Washington, D.C. The same numbers correlate to McClelland’s rollouts.  The sidebar panels to my paintings present the relevant pots and rollouts—and bear their identifying DORL/ICFA catalogue numbers. 

McClelland’s rollouts—hundreds of awesome achievements in themselves—serve a serious scholarly purpose by enabling methodical analyses of Moche motifs, but they do not exactly revel in the information conveyed by the Moche people who, not having a written language, nevertheless skillfully communicated so very much about their daily lives, beliefs, and cultural rituals in their remarkable works.  

Moved by that awesome collaborative, cross-cultural communication of such longue durée, I wanted to produce a tribute. Not being an archaeologist, I found a personal way, with current painting methods, to honor the storytelling implicit in Moche pottery. Excited by particularly evocative pots and their rollout drawings, I have sought to portray the energy of Moche society—and the grandeur of its cultural rituals and spiritual belief systems. My paintings are done in bright Jo Sonja matte and metallic acrylic paints on Arches cold-press, 156 lb. rag paper and reflect also my own direct experience of the Moche landscape, its geography, atmosphere, flora, and fauna. I found further color clues in faded traces of Moche painted murals, in rare relics of Moche textiles, and in the rich array of gold, silver, and other natural materials recovered from the gravesites of the affluent. Their clothing, armor, jewelry, weaponry, and other accessories are featured in the world’s museums and private collections. These survivals enlarge our capacity to imagine living, laboring, worshipping, even ruling in the times and places of the Moche civilization. My paintings are an expression of my joy in learning so much from Moche artists and from those who have preserved and studied their work. 

Inspired by Moche art, I celebrate my Peruvian identity as well as the history and lore of the northern coast of mi Patria, and I relive my good luck in having bumped into Moche culture at a formative point in my childhood. I honor in my paintings the hard work of Peruvian historians and archaeologists and of their foreign colleagues. My paintings—joyful, colorful, and grateful—are also conceptions of the long and varied story of the land of my birth. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Vicky Arana (2023)