History and worldview
The first quipu found in Peru dates back to the time of Caral, approximately 5000 years ago. From distant times, the inhabitants of the south territory of Peru have managed to pass from generation to generation this synthesis of knowledge made with knots and ropes; going through the historical periods of local cultures or of conquest and integration within a period of 3500 years in total. The last stage of the quipus’ crafting was during the Inca culture, and their existence is associated to the administrative use to control the work of the communities, as well as the exchange of goods in exact amounts, and which are described by astounded Spanish chroniclers, who could not understand how a cotton or wool object could contain this information.
The quipus were read and interpreted by the quipucamayocs (quipus master), a position that has always been related to men in the Peruvian traditional history, and in some cases had to be carried by the chaskis across the extensive Qhapac Ñan map. However, recent studies (xxx) have suggested that the reading function of the quipus was not strictly assigned to the masters trained for such purpose, but that there were also women who were proficient in this task.
This statement should not surprise us since the Andean cosmovision includes the sense of DUALITY as correspondence energies of every act or creation. Women have a powerful participation in shaping pre-Hispanic societies, even a much more influential role than women in Europe at the same period. They were a paramount element in the construction of the Empire or Inca system; and this is clearly evidenced in the myths and legends gathered by modern ethnography and ethnohistory. For example, in the legend of the Ayar Brothers, it is Mama Huaco the one that gives the precise blow that intimidates the people occupying the ancient Qosqo and makes them run away. Or the presence of governing women such as the Lady of Cao and the Lady of Chonampaq in the North, with tombs that reveal the importance and transcendence of their actions, considered with a unique power reflecting mythical animals and natural forces.
In the Acllawasi, women were educated for various duties that consolidated the power of the Inca; some prepared the food during the trips, other learned to weave unkus as well as men, and there were those that the Inca offered as wives to the curacas of the new conquered territories, to consolidate alliances. In this context, women were the nexus with the central government, and their presence was primarily a form of control and observation. As a result, they were women who could generate, interpret and send information of major interest to the Inca. This is how they could have been excellent quipucamayocs, in every sense of the word and position.
Nowadays, the quipus rest in museum collections, only associated with their mathematical functions; but it is not the only thing that this object inherits us. There were quipucamayocs that just by looking at the quipu – as the chroniclers say - could tell stories of older Incas represented in mallquis, comparable to epic poems, sagas, triumphs turned into praises. The quipu is associated to the historical memory by the way it is read, as well as by the ability to gather specific information of numbers in large quantities. It is a container of wisdom and its value mirrors the person who reads it.
In our days, Alexandra Grau has decided to embark on the path of interpreting quipus. Not in terms of representation or of mimesis but as from the same material, which is the origin of its manufacture: fabrics, cotton, rope, macramé, gauze, embroidery, lace, feathers. The unusual textures touch and mobilize the historical context, transforming these modern and large quipus into a sensorial journey. Alexandra ties the ropes to large tree trunks brought by recent llocllas, a manifestation of the El Niño phenomenon and our indomitable and periodic nature, and with this action, she integrates the memory of the past with the action of the present, as well as interweaves cultural and spatial distances; and in the desire to recycle, she manifests the meaning of the sense of value and rescue of what we consider has already come to an end. Thus, opens and closes circles that could be associated with healing cycles or rebirth.
Alexandra seeks - intuitively or by creative impulse - to reformulate a thought space in this new quipus crafted, by connecting the past many times not understood of the life of the quipus - that now remain static, silent behind a security glass and without a quipucamayoc - with living forms, articulated, with their own dynamic, that surround and lull us, and convert into greater landscapes of secret humanity. Through her quipus, Alexandra gives us a glimpse of her feminine side in its maximum creative power, something that contains a very old DNA, of symbols related to the most sublime thoughts that help transcending the spirits beyond their physical existence, and that revive and connect our memory with a wider sense of being and communication.