The photographic documentation project A Spiritual Geography of the Highlands is shown as a visual inventory of the spiritual imagery of the South Peruvian Andes.
It doesn’t have the ambition to be a complete record of the mythical and cultural elements of a reality in which shamanism and popular cults cohabit with other concurrent religious systems. The main purpose is to generate reflection in the reader about the importance of the conservation of ancestral cultures and the deep contribution that a different ecosystem of interpretations of reality can offer.
A Spiritual Geography of the Highlands is a project that began in 2016 when the author went to live in the Andes of Cusco, where he had the opportunity to immerse himself in the great cultural wealth that these lands have been able to preserve. Living in the mountains of Cusco means being in continuous contact with an ancestral wisdom, expressed not only in a pre-Inca language such as Quechua, but also through small daily ritual gestures that show a close relationship of affection and respect between the man and his environment. An exemplary symbol of this relationship is the belief in the Apus, the guardian spirits incarnated in the mountains. According to the inhabitants of these lands, the Apus are supernatural entities, true masters and protectors of all existing things and to which the inhabitants show daily respect in the form of different dedicating offerings.
Andean spirituality is a fragmented world of an eminently traditional nature, which is deeply connected with agricultural and pastoral practices. This fragmentation is also reflected in the inventory proposed by the photographer. The intention, therefore, is to invite the viewer to consider the partiality of the project as an intrinsic characteristic of the subject it is documenting; this is justified, on the one hand, by the lack of a coherent narrative within a belief system influenced by other cultures, and on the other hand, finds its reason in the large number of symbols and customs that are still to be investigated.
Popular mystical beliefs are considered to predate the times of the Inca, which sought in part to overcome them by building an institutionalized polytheistic system; but these ancient beliefs survived almost as a clandestine religion in parallel. It is also known that they resisted the imposition of the Catholic religion in colonial times, avoiding extinction and oblivion as has happened with other cultures in other corners of the planet, thus creating in the South-Peruvian Andes a kind of official syncretism among these two worlds. In modern times, on the other hand, the Andean spiritual practice is fighting against the process of globalization, as well as against the eventuality of a gradual construction of a single “monochromatic” society. From this idea comes the project of documentation, which in certain ways recalls and rescues the cosmo-vision of our ancestors that is in danger of extinction.
In the need to define the essence of the spiritual vision of the Andes, we find answers in every manifestation of the contemporary Andean people and in their interpretation of the world. This visual inventory contemplates not only archetypal and symbolic aspects of various elements, but also those traditional uses that these possess in ritual contexts, in addition to the meaning they conserve in the collective imagery.
To achieve this communicative purpose, the inventory is limited to the search for representative elements of a set of beliefs that have been preserved despite the influences of other cultures.
“I hope that this project could awake the sensibility of the reader about the relevance of the Andean conception of the world, which in general terms is only a small example of the enormous cultural diversity present in our planet and that at accelerated rates is disappearing”.