On temporary loan from the private collection Michelle Wibbelsman, 2015. Calabazas talladas or etched story gourds appear throughout the Andes. The items in this particular collection were purchased either in the Otavalo open market or at Galerías Latinas.
Story gourds depict specific events, often embedded in a dense context of simultaneous, overlapping activities. The tactile, sonorous, organic nature of the gourd prompts us to “read” the piece using multiple senses. The spherical shape of the gourds, moreover, invites us to turn the piece in our hands and presents us with a non-linear narrative structure that has no clear beginning, middle, or end. Fine etchings on the tiniest gourds compel attention to detail as part of the Andean aesthetic and introduce the phenomenon of miniaturized representations found throughout the Andean region.
Etched story gourds depict clear delimitations of space and activity generally divided into three distinct spatial-temporal zones. The top part, separated by a clear boundary depicts celestial bodies and often mythic beings. In other gourds, such as the one above, musical instruments are tellingly included in the upper level. The middle layer generally depicts dwellings. And the bottom layer is populated with human and animal activity.
Fine etchings on the tiniest gourds compel attention to detail. In addition to the circular narrative structure of the calabacitas talladas, this aesthetic introduces the phenomenon of miniaturized representations found throughout the Andean region.
As Catherine Allen, sociocultural anthropologist specializing in Andean ethnography and ethnohistory, observes, there is a penchant for envelopment or synecdoche in Andean cultures, where every microcosm implies a macrocosm. In an act of “writing the world,” powerful miniatures, in effect, inform the cosmos with their own form (Allen 1997).
As “texts” in their own right, the etch gourds present us with distinct literary and historical narrative forms, different types of textuality, and an alternative literacy that provides a glimpse into the multidimensional sites of indigenous knowledge.