Volkswagen Fellowship Symposium 2014 – Violence against the Body in the Drawings of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala

Blenda B. Femenías:

My project addresses visual representations of relationships among gender, race, and social and political order in the early colonial Andes. Many colonial-era portraits emphasize the nobility of the pre-Spanish Inca rulers, thus unduly emphasizing the legitimization of authority. Other artists, however, deliberately stress the connection between pre-conquest authority and challenges to the devastating, illegitimate Spanish domination, including the necessity of violent inversion to restore the natural (indigenous) order. Under the profound weight of Christian conversion, however, even transgressions against the colonial social order that are justified as opposition to tyranny may also be condemned as “sin.” By disproportionately including sexual transgression, this categorization contains female agency within the moral order and removes it from the political realm.
Particularly crucial are Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s drawings in his Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno (1615). Guaman Poma often shows violence inflicted upon the body: the stoning of adulterers, flogging of noncompliant workers, shackling and beheading of Inca monarchs, and demonic torture of heretics. Scholars routinely present any solitary image to illustrate his critique of colonial abuses, but the punishing images have not been analyzed as a group. I am exploring how these constitute a thematic corpus within the Corónica and their correlation to other contemporary visualizations of impropriety, subordination, or inversion. Thus I aim to refocus our attention to the politics of opposition, including its gendered, sexual, and racial dimensions.

Blenda Femenías (Ph.D., Cultural Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Catholic University of America. A specialist in gender, race, and ethnicity in Latin America, she has conducted research in the Andes for three decades. Current projects address indigenismo and cultural institutions in Peru and colonial Andean transformations of gendered bodies. Her publications include Gender and the Boundaries of Dress in Contemporary Peru and many articles. She is co-editor with Margot Schevill of the Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Vol. 2, Latin America, and the author-editor of Andean Aesthetics: Textiles of Peru and Bolivia.

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