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Bolivian Art


In Bolivia, you can find art anywhere. The rich artistic tradition of the country is exhibited not only in museums, but also in the architecture, the clothing and the local craftwork. Spanning back to the pre-Columbian era with the Aymara people of the Bolivian Altiplano, continuing on through to the Inca invasion and the subsequent Spanish conquest, Bolivian art has undergone a number of transformations that beautifully reflect the complex history and culture of the country.




The practice of weaving in Bolivia goes back to ancient times, before the arrival of that crazy guy who claimed the world was round, or even the Inca. Early inhabitants of the Bolivian Altiplano and the Lake Titicaca Basin began the practice of weaving to fulfill a basic need: clothing. The meaning of the practice changed, however, as populations grew and techniques became more advanced. Clothing soon served not only to keep people warm on those cold Andean nights, but also to define social status and traditional roles within a community. Whereas clothing indicative of a higher status would be very colorful with ornate designs displaying important cultural figures or symbols, lower class garments were plainer and less ostentatious.

Today, descendents of early indigenous groups continue to practice the weaving traditions they learned from their ancestors using alpaca, llama, vicuña or sheep´s wool, to create beautiful bags, shawls, blankets, skirts, hats, belts and other items. Certain symbols, designs, and colors tell distinct stories and are representative of particular villages or communities. When purchasing textiles it may be worth your while asking about the cultural significance of your particular garment.



Fine Arts

It’s no secret that the fine arts of Bolivia take second place to the country’s famous textiles and crafts, but the fine arts did indeed play an important role in Bolivia’s history. With the arrival of the Spanish came art forms previously unknown to the Americas—specifically, painting and sculpture. The subject matter of earlier pieces is almost exclusively religious, as the Europeans endeavored to spread the Christian faith throughout the region. As time passed and the mestizo population—persons of mixed Hispanic and indigenous ethnicity—grew, subject matter and stylistic techniques began to change, resulting in a fusion of Spanish and indigenous cultures. Many 15th and 16th century artists would depict prominent Christian figures and scenes and incorporate them into the Andean landscape, effectively creating an artistic style unique to the area.

20th century painters moved farther away from the European sphere of influence, as local figures, landscapes and scenes begin to dominate the subject matter. In the 1930s, Bolivian art got caught up in the widespread indigenist movement in South America and many artists began to depict the ongoing struggle of the indigenous population, hoping to give a voice to the marginalized and the oppressed. Today, Bolivian art continues to exhibit many of the same themes prevalent in the colonization period, through to pre-Columbian and modern times, with the employment of various techniques and styles.



Other Crafts

Jewelry, metalwork, pottery and woodcarvings are among the types of crafts you’re likely to find while in Bolivia. And as more than half of Bolivia’s total population identifies as indigenous, much of the local craftwork or, artesanía, is heavily influenced and inspired by the indigenous culture. Most crafts refer back to earlier times, replicating the pre-Columbian artifacts that are found in museums. Typically, crafts will depict ancient religious symbols and iconography of the area. But while some crafts are indeed hecho a mano (handmade), advances in technology have resulted in the greater use of modern tools and production techniques, so look for tiny imperfections to validate authenticity.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Bolivia: Bolivian Dance and Bolivian Architecture.

By Emma Mueller
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry...
13 Jul 2009

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