Renowned for their distinctive styles and elaborate decorative motifs, Andean textiles are lauded as visually stunning pieces of art in written scholarship and museum exhibitions. However, for centuries the social significance of woven cloth within Andean communities has extended far beyond its aesthetic quality. Variations in dress communicate social identities, demarcating not only gender and age differences, but also ethnic identity and even village membership. In pre-Hispanic times, textiles were at the core of ritual practice, constituting a central component of funerary assemblages and given in sacrifice to the earth and gods. Demanded as tribute by the Inca state and offered as valuable gifts to cement political relationships, textiles were essential to the Inca economy and elite strategies of statecraft. During the Colonial Period, dress was both reflective and constitutive of the process of cultural interchange, as indigenous weavers were co-opted into Spanish textile workshops and European materials and styles were incorporated into Andean costume. Examining the ‘social lives’ of woven cloth in the Andean past and present, this symposium treats textiles as objects that interject in human experience in Andean South America, and incorporates perspectives from archaeologists, ethno-historians and art historians to explore the vital cultural, political, economic and ritual roles of cloth in the Andes.

Peter N. Miller
Dean and Professor, Bard Graduate Center

Nicola Sharratt
Bard Graduate Center

Amy Oakland
Art, California State University, East Bay
“Es costumbre no más”: Style and Meaning in Archaeological Textiles

Gary Urton
Anthropology, Harvard University
The Social Life of Khipus

Elena Phipps
President, Textile Society of America
Textiles, Color and Identity in the Andes