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Ayacucho Crafts
A close up of one of Alfredo López’s hand-painted wooden crosses.
A close up of one of Alfredo López’s hand-painted wooden crosses.
Photo by Josué Castilleja, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives

Since the pre-Hispanic era, the region of Ayacucho has been characterized by its music and crafts. The cultural expressions in this Andean valley have adapted and changed over time, especially in the face of violence during the 1980s.

Many crafts have evolved from utilitarian to decorative since the introduction of highways and railroads, which brought low-cost industrial products into the market. The creativity and persistence of these artisans has also been tested through the era of terrorism and subsequent loss of tourism, but they have held onto their traditions and created new urban and international market opportunities.

Tin Crafts

Originally, Ayacucho tin artisans fabricated utilitarian objects such as pails and candelabras using a mix of Spanish and Wari metallurgy techniques. With the advent of industrially produced plastic and electric candles, artisans such as the Araujo family have adapted by making decorative crafts. Jang Araujo inherited the tradition from his father but incorporated motifs from the retablo, or story box, a tradition practiced on his mother’s side, to create innovative crosses and mirrors imbued with his cultural surroundings.


Every year, craft makers from Cangallo province create masks for Three Kings Day (January 6). The masks are used by dance troupes who perform to celebrate Jesus’s birth. With a mixture of flour paste, sugar, and glue Nilo Prado creates masks with different combinations of colors and styles, differentiating the three categories of dancers: guides, children, and machus, or captains.

Painted Wood Crafts

In colonial times, story boxes were used to spread Catholicism across Ayacucho. Following in his family tradition, Alfredo López makes story boxes, or retablos, illustrating religious celebrations and everyday life stories. Before he begins his work, López gives thanks to the earth by making an offering to the mountain spirit Apu Huatuscalle. He creates scenes of Andean celebrations, town festivals, and artisanal and agrarian activities.


The Santa Ana neighborhood in Ayacucho is noted for its tapestries characterized by a creative combination of pre-Hispanic and contemporary Western influences. Inspired by the recovery of ancient technology and Wari cultural themes, maestro Alfonso Sulca weaves traditional symbols and patterns with a contemporary aesthetic. His weaving techniques are typical of the region.


Quinua, known as the town of ceramicists, is located in Ayacucho in the south-central Andes at the heart of pottery production. Deeply rooted in the history of the region, traditional ceramics have an important place in contemporary homes. In his family workshop, maestro Mamerto Sánchez continues to mold miniature red clay churches which are installed on the roofs of new homes to protect and bless them. He also makes bull figurines, which symbolize fertility.

Crisscrossed with paths connecting communities across geography and history, Peru boasts a stunning vertical landscape that integrates a diversity of ecosystems and cultures. Peru is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, containing ninety microclimates across extreme variances of altitude. The coastal, rain-forested, and mountainous environments provide abundant resources, including major exports such as fish, copper, and asparagus. Many culturally and historically significant areas are popular tourist destinations that encompass complex layered histories.

The uniqueness of Peru’s diversity lies in the connectedness of its landscape in the form of rivers, roads, and pathways that existed long before the Inka Empire (fifteenth–sixteenth centuries) and Spanish colonization (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries). Across its different altitudes and climates, communities exchange commodities and practices, shaping deeply rooted but constantly changing daily customs and celebrations. The influx and movement of people between and beyond borders also influence and transform these exchanges.

The 2015 Peru program featured projects, organizations, and groups whose cultural expressions highlight these social, cultural, and economic exchanges. It demonstrated how the networks of celebration and community, crops and markets, textile and craft production, foodways and technology, and music and dance forge the diverse cultural heritage of the country.

Visitors to the Peru Festival program could experience these unique connections through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated discussions, ritual and celebratory processions, and other participatory activities. In addition, there was a robust involvement with Peruvian American and diaspora communities. The public had the opportunity to learn, to eat, to dance, to shop, to witness these vibrantly connected cultures, and to create their own connections with Peruvian artists and specialists on the National Mall and beyond.

Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera were Curators for the Smithsonian; Rafael Varón Gabai was Curator and Consultant to MINCETUR. Valentina Pilonieta-Vera was Program Coordinator; Alexia Fawcett was Community Engagement Manager, and Betty Belanus was Family Activities Curator. A Curatorial Advisory Committee included: Madeleine Burns, Marjorie Hunt, Mary Linn, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, Giancarlo Marcone, Soledad Mujica, Diana N’Diaye, Luis Repetto, Marcela Ríos, Daniel Sheehy, Jorge Ortiz Sotelo, Milagritos Saldarriaga, Francisco Tumi, and Madeleine Zúñiga. A Community Advisory Group included: Catherine Cabel Chicas, Nelly Carrión, Billy Castillo, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, Fabiana Chiu- Rinaldi, María del Carmen Cossu, Miguel García, Elmer Huerta, Vicky Leyva, Doris Loayza, Ana Noriega, Elena Tscherny, and Ricardo Villanueva.

The program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Republic of Peru Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Additional support was provided by the staff of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, directed by Kevin Gover (Pawnee), coordinated by Amy Van Allen; Washington Dulles international Airport and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. Special media support is provided by Telemundo Washington DC,, Latin Opinion Baltimore Newspaper, Orange Barrel Media, WAMU 88.5, El Tiempo Latino, Washington Hispanic, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Hìspano (MD-DE-PA), CTM Media Group, El Zol 107.9, Digital Conventions, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Support for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's welcoming ceremony was provided, in part, by Avocados From Peru and Pisco Portón (in-kind).

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