There is always a curiosity to know more about the meaning behind the tapestries by Maximo Laura so in this page we would love to give you a guideline on how to read his works.
During his 34 years as a Textile Artist, Maestro Laura has created many series and collections of works, exploring a number of themes and tapestry techniques during different states in his life, but a constant through his career has been his ideal to create a continuity of Peru’s millenary textile history, to give his culture and traditions a voice in the 21st Century, and to do this he combined a contemporary aesthetic with traditional techniques, designs, myths and symbols. Because of this, it is important to understand a couple Andean concepts to be able to read his tapestries.
The Sun and the Moon
First of all, when you see the works of Maximo Laura it is common to see in a number of them the figures of the Sun or the Moon at the top of the piece. This is because in the Andean cosmology, the Inti or Sun God was one of the most important deities, the provider of warmth and light, a protector of the people. According to the legends, Inti taught his son and daughter the arts of civilization and they were sent to earth to pass this knowledge. The Sun still carries a very important role in the Andes today and there are many festivals and ceremonies celebrated around its importance, such as the Inti Raymi in the city of Cusco.
In other tapestries you will a figure of the Moon instead of the Sun, which in Andean cosmology is Mama Killa, the Mother Moon and the sister of the Sun God. Traditionally, the Sun God is portrayed as a golden disk, while the Moon goddess is portrayed as a silver disk.
When exploring the tapestries you might also find a number of works where the Sun and Moon are showed together. This makes reference to the idea of Complementary Dualism found in Andean cosmology, understood as two opposite beings which are in need each other to create balance and stability. In this case, the dualistic relationship is between a Sun (male deity, the Sun God) and the Moon (female deity, the Mother Moon). In this specific case, the dualistic view is also found in the cyclic way of viewing the world, such as the “fight” and complement of day and night, the sun and the moon, male and female.
In other tapestries you can see this concept represented by two faces displayed in opposite directions, but that might share a common characteristic such as an eye or the mouth.
This dualistic view of the world is found in many expressions of Andean cultures, from political and social organization, to religious ideas, rituals and creation myths. Dualism has many roots in pre-Columbian art, as we find zoomorphic creatures paired with inverted symmetries in the Andes as early as the Preceramic period. We can also find pairs and visual oppositions in most Andean cultures through time in silverwork, ceramic and architecture, but it is in woven textiles where we find this expression at its peak through anthropomorphized felines, birds, geometric patterns and designs.
The Three Realms
Another important concept that we need to understand when reading the works of Maestro Laura is that in Andean cosmology, the cosmos is divided in three realms or three pachas: Hanan Pacha, Kay Pacha and Uku Pacha. The three pachas represent different levels or existence that are interconnected by spiritual and mythical elements. They shaped the religion of the Incas and the life of the people.
The Hanan Pacha is the world of the above, of celestial beings, the world of the gods, of the Sun God and the Mother Moon. The Incas believed that one would ascent to the Hanan Pacha after death. This realm is normally represented by the figure of the condor, the Sun or the Moon and in Maestro Laura’s tapestries it can also be represented by the stars or flying being.
The sacred mountains or “Apus” are thought to have spirits that bridge the gap between man and the Hanan Pacha, which is why in the Andes many mountains and their peaks are viewed as sacred, and many times used as a location for ceremonies. This is also why Maestro Laura includes the mountains as an important theme for many of his works, sometimes found in the background of a tapestry or as the main theme of a piece.
The Kay Pacha is the middle world (literally meaning “this world”). This is the realm of the living, of the present, of humans, the earthly world. This realm is normally represented in Maestro Laura’s tapestries by a jaguar or by human figures.
The Uku Pacha is the inner world, the world of the dead as well as of the new life, the world of fertility, of earth and that which is beneath the earth (traditionally represented by the figure of a snake).
Now that you understand these three realms and their representations, you can see that many tapestries by Maestro Laura express these same realms in a visual way. In many works we can find the Sun, or the Moon, the stars or the Condor at the top of the design, representing the Hanan Pacha. In the middle we might be able to find human figures such as faces, or felines, representing the Kay Pacha. At the bottom of many pieces we can find the figure of snakes or roots, representing the Uku Pacha. With this information we can also understand the type of “arrow” figures that we find in many tapestries, going towards the top of the design, going from the earthly world (Kay Pacha) towards the upper world (Hanan Pacha) and creating a connection.
In the tapestry “Dwelling of the Condor”, for example, we can see how the Moon and Sun are designed together, representing duality and the upper world. In the middle of the piece we can find several human faces (some are in the background of the design) representing middle world, and at the bottom of the piece we see an icon that Maestro Laura has included in many of his pieces, which looks like roots are alive, almost like a snake.
The Inca Cross
In some pieces we will also find the Inca Cross or “Chakana” which is one of the main symbols in the Andean world and has been found in a number of Andean cultures across history, from the Paracas, Chavin and Tiahuanaco Cultures, to the Incas. A lot has been said about the meaning of the Chakana but it is believed that each of the three steps found on the corners of the Chakana is a representation of the three realms. The word “chakana” is thought to be born from the Quechua word “chaka” which means “bridge” or “union”, and the suffix “-na” which means “instruments”, so the Chakana is a symbol which represents an instrument of union between the 3 realms.
We know through the account of the Spanish chronicles and through archeological evidence that music was an essential part of life in ancient Andean cultures. People played music in their homes for entertainment, but also as part of rituals. It was used in religious ceremonies such as burials, feasts and festivals, as well as in political activities. It was also used to heal the sick and to communicate with their ancestors. We can find evidence of this in wind instruments made from bone used in pre-Columbian ceremonies, and through its representation in ceramic, textiles and silver work.
Today, music still plays a very important roles in Andean society, not only as entertainment, but also as a part of traditional ceremonies and festivities, being the guitar, the pan flute and the drum among the most important instruments. This is why Maestro Laura has created a number of pieces about musicians playing together in the crop fields during harvest festivities, for example, or about traditional dancers.
Birds and Sea Life
Lastly, it is important to note that Maestro Laura has made a collection of works about birds, and another collection about sea life. This is because he very interested in the natural world and for him, they carry a deeper meaning of peace and continuity of our natural landscape and planet in a time of global warming and pollution. For his collection about sea life, which he has titled as the “Galapagos Collection”, he was inspired by the incredible natural life found in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Although Maestro Laura is from the town of Ayacucho located in the Andes, he has lived more than 30 years in Lima, in the coast of Peru, with a close relationship with the sea and the ocean.
In many of Maestro Laura’s tapestries you will also find a number patterns that repeat through different works, so it is important to make a note about the meaning of these patterns or motifs as well.
Circles: Circles in the Andean cosmology carry a meaning of cycles, of cyclical time and transformation, a way to understand the world where cycles of time recur and events with them, so the circle motifs represent this cyclical time, especially when the theme of the piece is related to harvest or seasons. In a more physical representation, many tapestries have motifs that carry the shape of natural landscapes, sometimes seen from a birds eye view. This way we can see the circles is some tapestries are representations of lakes.
Zig Zag Patters: We find these patterns in several tapestries (see image below), as the circles, they also represent a natural landscape. These patterns represent Andean terraces, steps created in the Andean slopes that are still in use today to farm, created and used not only by the Incas but by a number of Pre-Inca cultures to work on very steep areas. The terraces have shaped the Andean landscape for thousands of years and one can still see them all across the landscape when traveling through Peru and other Andean countries.
Checkered Patters: These patters also represent a natural landscape, and in this case, they represent the crop fields in the Andes, when seen from a birds eye view. It is interesting to find these three patterns when flying through the Andes, as with a privilege view we are able to see the lakes as small circles, the crop fields as checkered patters and, if seen from a low altitude, the Andean terraces.