A Pinch of Politically Incorrect Peruvian Art

Last month the gringo family was in town for 10 days and, as newsletter subscribers know, I failed to deliver as many cultural activities (“Culture” with a capital C) as I would have liked. But I did get them inside the Cathedral’s religious art museum as well as MALI, Lima’s top art museum. MALI was sold with the promise of a quick run-through (almost no stopping) with the promise of not explaining the context of every piece. Only the magnificent.

After the run it was not difficult to get them into the gift shop. I bought a couple things, including a book about the work of Peruvian artist Camilo Blas. Born in Cajamarca as Jose Sanchez Urteaga, Blas is one of the most recognized artists in the indigenismo movement.

After some 400 years of stepping on the cholos, Latin America saw the rise of a … I’m going to let the expert tell it. From this over-educated art history professor at Cornell:

The 1920s precipitated a flurry of intellectual activity in the Andes dedicated to the valorization of the Indian as a symbol of regional, national, and continental identities. Pioneered by the Marxist intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui, the indigenismo movement in Peru sought to bring the country’s Andean identity to the front and center of nationalist discourse as a corrective to centuries of marginalization and exploitation of its native communities …

[In addition to writing] indigenismo incorporated poetry, music and art criticism into its fold, which were disseminated through art galleries, museums and cultural centers sponsored by a number of state and private institutions.

Inca Culture

The indigenismo movement was also strong in Mexico, whose government successfully married the indigenous Aztec culture with Hispanic to create a national identity. Peru, on the other hand, never had its heart in it and still has serious race issues. It’s no surprise it took a gringo to discover and popularize Machu Picchu, but I digress.

Indigenismo by Camilo Blas

You don’t read Expat Chronicles for a lecture on art history. You want scandal. I know it, and I give it to you!

At some stage of his career the indigenist painter and drawer Camilo Blas was hired by Peru’s education ministry, known at the time as the Ministry of Instruction. And you won’t believe the racist, insensitive, hate propaganda he produced for the government!

Trigger Warning!

The following images and their captions (translated from Spanish, Quechua and Aymara) may cause emotional distress.

For the clowns in the audience, you are a bad person if you laugh at any of these. You will go to hell.

“The Indian who bathes is strong and agile for work. You have to take a bath!”

(Above) “The Indian who sleeps on the ground with dogs and guinea pigs looks like the animals.”

(Below) “The Indian who sleeps on a clean bed with a mattress lives happy and healthy for a long time.”

(Above) “I shouldn’t live in just one hut that serves as a room for my family and my animals.”

(Below) “An educated and aspiring Indian has at least one room to sleep in, another for eating and one more to house the livestock.”

(Above) “The Indian who gets drunk brings pain and misery to his family and dies young.”

(Below) “He who does not get drunk has a house, land and animals, and brings happiness to his children.”

(Above) “If we don’t make paved roads we have to carry our agricultural products ourselves, like donkeys and llamas.”

(Below) “Let’s make paved roads! Let’s pool our money and buy a truck for the Ayllu. Let’s happily obey the Road Law!”

[End of Dangerous Space]

Resume Safe Space

That’s all for the hideous, sickening and insensitive work from Blas. But while I’m at it, I’ll run through some miscellaneous highlights below.

Atahualpa’s ransom” was a room full of gold, filled as high as he could reach, brought in from his holdings across the Inca Empire. After he filled the room, the Spaniards killed him anyway.

Journalist and philosopher Jose Carlos Mariategui is often considered the founder of indigenismo, as well as one of the 20th century’s most influential communists in Latin America. A line from one of his books inspired the name, Shining Path. Blas designed this book cover.

After making a name for himself as one of Peru’s preeminent artists and indigenists, Blas shocked the nation by embarking on what became an entire chapter of art highlighting “criollismo,” or city life in Lima. “Lima alley” is probably Blas’s signature work.

“Picarones” is one of Blas’s more famous paintings. Have you tried picarones? Also making an appearance is chicha morada.

My personal favorite, an interpretation of the Señor de los Milagros procession. Note Cerro San Cristobal in the background.

The cover of El Comercio for the 400th anniversary of Lima. Starting from Santa Rosa and moving clockwise: tapada limeña, Senor de los Milagros, the Lima coat of arms, Francisco Pizarro, marinera dancing and bullfighting.

Spanish soldiers torture Jose Olaya, a Peruvian independence figure similar to Paul Revere.


Click the images to enlarge. Or for high-res slideshow viewing, see the Camilo Blas album on the Expat Chronicles FB page.



  1. Maybe I’m hideous, sickening and insensitive myself, but Blas’s posters, while obviously not PC, are not to be taken as some kind of demeaning and purposely ethnocentric rant. It appears to me as a sincere and well-meaning yet blatantly prejudiced and somewhat uninformed attempt to try and raise living standards among Indian population by means of kitsch propaganda. That being said, I can clearly see why an outspoken so-called liberal would find this stuff upsetting, I can’t blame anyone.
    Keep up with your blog, it’s quite enjoyable for me and a good many others to read, you may bet on it


  2. My interest in ethnographic art and related research into Peruvian artist Camilo Blas led me to your article “A Pinch of Politically Incorrect Peruvian Art”. My specific interest is Blas’ “politically incorrect” posters, in the context of the indigenismo movement – “… national discourse as a corrective to centuries of marginalization and exploitation of its native communities …” (with art as one means of doing that). Labelling these posters as “politically incorrect” is a 21st century enlightened term. I suspect that these circa 1930 posters by Blas were well-intentioned (and perhaps even enlightened), given the thinking of that time. Indeed, the plight of indigenous peoples of Peru and surrounding countries was directly related to their being conquered by the Spanish and the need to bring them to Christianity (Catholicism). And I suspect that no one in 1930 asked the question “How did these indigenous people ever survive on their own for thousands of years?” – the ways of European people and Christianity must be the only answer.

    It struck me that there are some similarities in 1930s Peru to what happened to Native Americans in the United States around the turn of the 19th century. Native American children were taken from their families and forced to attend Indian schools, where they were taught the ways and religion of the white man (can you imagine a circa 1900 equivalent set of Blas’ posters applied here?). The thinking at the time – there is no other way these savage and uncivilized people could survive.

    Thanks for writing this. I’m glad I found it. I know it’s been awhile since you’ve written this and you have moved on to St. Louis, so I hope sharing my perspective is useful.


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