Luminescence: The Silver of Peru, Showing at the University of Toronto Art Centre

On January 15th, 2013, I had the pleasure of attending the lecture and opening reception for Luminescence: The Silver of Peru. This dazzling exhibition traces the long history of silverwork and the human fascination with the divine and luminescent qualities of silver. Luminescence featured an exhibition of more than 140 artifacts assembled form a variety of sources—private and museum collections, drawn from four periods of  history:  Pre-Columbian, colonial, republican and contemporary—including national treasures seldom seen internationally.

The exhibition is curated by The University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology (MOA) Director, Dr. Anthony Shelton, in collaboration with the Patronato Plata del Perú (a non-profit cultural institution). The exhibition opened in style with a lecture from Mr. José Torres Della Pina, a third-generation Peruvian silversmith, researcher, and Director of the Patronato Plata del Perú. In honour of the occasion, Della Pina’s lecture was followed by a delightful reception of authentic Peruvian hor d’oeuvres, such as empanadas, mini anticuchos (beef shish kabobs), rice pudding for dessert and Pisco Sour (a traditional Peruvian cocktail made with Pisco, lime, and egg white).

Luminescence portrays the evolution of Peruvian Silversmithing techniques, developed in pre-Columbian times to satisfy the spirit, and later to serve the novel demands of the colonial elite and the Catholic Church. In the lecture, Della Pina revealed the cultural significance of silver as a valued religious currency. During pre-Columbian times, silver was used to assist the owner in reaching the divine spirits. Silver was not perceived as a precious metal in an economic sense; rather, silver objects were handcrafted as an embellished object to feed spiritual beliefs and aid in the pursuit to reach the divine, what would be considered religion or God in contemporary culture.

Upon the arrival of colonialism, the evolution of silversmithing was transformed from serving religious beliefs to the colonial elite; then, the arrival of technology replaced the chisel for the machine, diminishing the spiritual value of silver, instead situating the metal as a product of and for cultural consumption.

Experiencing this exhibition provided me the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of art, and how that has changed and morphed throughout time. Contemporary society tends to overlook the deeper, engrained meaning of art making, and the reflections of the artist in their craft. The process of art making is in itself the process of invoking the spirit and reaching out the soul.

That reflection, the individual hand and heart of the artist, is what I experienced when I ambled thru the gallery and contemplated the objects presented in Luminescence. This exhibition resonated with me, not only as someone born in Peru, but because it reminded me of the status of the artist and why they create:  they create art with heart.

I still believe artists have been able to maintain their “pre-Colombian” spirit when creating. The purity of art making is reflected in this exhibition, the history of creating for purpose of representing and serving intrinsic values, beliefs or religion. It’s just astonishing!

I encourage you to visit this one-of-kind exhibition on display until March 9th, 2013.

To learn more about the Art Centre and this work, please click here.

Would like to hear what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Thank you.

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