by Denise Y. Arnold

Monday, 23 May 2011, 6pm, Room153, Malet Street, Birkbeck, London WC1E 7HX

This paper gives a reading of Andean textiles as documentary repositories concerning tributary relations in the past, and the traces that these relations have left in textile terminology and weaving practice today. It argues that textiles as documents record the activities of households, gendered persons and institutions in this web of tributary relations, as well as systematizing information on production, productive resources, and productive patterns. This kind of approach to information flow, analysis and documentation has been limited until now to studies of the knotted threads called khipu in Quechua or chinu in Aymara, although much evidence shows that Andean textiles served a parallel purpose. The paper argues that textiles have not been viewed in this light before because of several limitations in Andean studies, which are first reviewed. The paper proposes that one way of overcoming these limitations is to take up Frank Salomon’s challenge to treat textiles and khipus together as part of a common semiosis in fibre. The principles at stake in this challenge are laid out and examined.

Denise Y. Arnold is Research Professor in the Department of Iberian and Latin American Studies at Birkbeck, University of London, where she is organising the AHRC research project ‘Weaving communities of practice’, and Director of the Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Aymara in Bolivia. Among her recent co-publications are The Metamorphosis of Heads: Textual Struggles, Education and Land in the Andes (2006), Hilos sueltos. Los Andes desde el textil (2007) and Heads of State: Icons, Power and Politics in the Andes Ancient and Modern (2008).