In an elegant colonial building, the fascinating Museo de Arte Indigena is dedicated to the distinctive weavings of two local Quechua-speaking indigenous groups: the Jalq’a, who number about 26,000 and live in the mountains west of Sucre, and the Tarabuceños, a more numerous group who live around the town of Tarabuco to the east. The museum is run by an NGO, ASUR (Antropologos del Sur Andino), which works with Jalq’a and Tarabuceño communities to revive traditional weaving designs and techniques that had been dying out. This renaissance of indigenous art has seen both the quality and market value of the weavings of both groups rise dramatically, turning the craft into a source of income for hundreds of desperately poor campesino families.
Expertly laid out, with precise text explanations in Spanish, English, French and German, the museum introduces the different ethnic groups with maps and colour photos, then explains the weaving techniques and describes the different plants used to make natural dyes. There is often a Jalq’a or Tarabuceño woman weaving away in the courtyard as you wander around the museum, so you can see the creative process in action. The archeological finds on display demonstrate that many of the wood and bone weaving tools in use today are identical to those used in the Andes more than a thousand years ago, while some beautiful and well-preserved ancient textile fragments reveal an astonishing continuity of style, technique and aesthetic vision stretching back over many centuries. The central attractions, though, are the weavings themselves: brightly coloured, intricately detailed and laden with a complex symbolism, they’re works of great creativity that express a distinctively Andean artistic vision. The textiles are displayed in chronological order, revealing the development and changing style over time. There are also examples of how they are worn in daily dress and in ritual costumes for fiestas.