Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay
Honoring family heritage and celebrating the culture of Ayacucho
by Louise Deglin
Retablos represent the culture, traditions and daily activities in wooden boxes painted with vibrant colors in the Ayacucho region of central Peru. In 1942, Joaquín López Antay created the first Ayacucho retablo, transforming the Cajón de San Marcos, whose theme was religious and which was used to bless activities, into a unique piece that materializes the culture of its community.
Thanks to all his contribution to Andean popular art, Joaquín López Antay received the National Culture Award in 1975. Many believed that his creations did not deserve the award, since he was not an artist because he had not studied in a School of Arts. Half a century later, his great-granddaughter, Patricia Mendoza López, proves that Joaquín López Antay’s art not only deserves to be exhibited: it is the key to Ayacucho’s cultural renaissance. Trained as a psychologist, Patricia Mendoza López did not expect to become the director of her own museum. It all started when, in 2015, she realized how little her great-grandfather’s work was valued: “There was a very strong abandonment of my great-grandfather’s story.” The sole descendant of Antay to continue the retablo tradition, Alfredo López Morales, had little family support for his art, and the only institution that exhibited her great-grandfather’s retablos in the city of Ayacucho had broken and dusty pieces in its showcases.
Patricia then decided to take the matter into her own hands—and into her mother’s house. The young psychologist was inspired by house-museums she had visited in Chile, such as that of Pablo Neruda, to turn her family home into a place for people to be transported into Antay’s art and philosophy. She put her career in psychology aside and gave the house-museum her all.
The endeavor was however far from straightforward, given that neither Patricia nor her relatives were trained in cultural management. While the house-museum is widely successful among visitors today (4.5 stars on TripAdvisor and a feature in Lonely Planet), it is not financially sustainable yet.
"we do not want to forget our reason for being: a space for the promotion of art, the sharing of Andean teachings and our traditions"
The harsh reality is that the Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay needs money to survive and thrive. To that end this, Patricia is receiving training while developing new and exciting projects for the museum, such as as a small retablo style accommodation and soon a coffee shop with her mother’s baked goods and a store with locally made artworks with her great-grandfather’s motifs, from ceramics to textiles. A way to integrate her maternal and local heritage within the larger scope of the museum.
But the goal of the Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay is much more than being a lucrative business: Patricia wants to celebrate the figure of an artist who rose to fame and proved that he could be one of the greatest, despite being illiterate and only speaking Quechua (the indigenous language in Ayacucho). She underscores the fact that “we do not want to forget our reason for being: a space for the promotion of art, the sharing of Andean teachings and our traditions.” In Antay’s honor, Patricia wishes to give back to the community in several ways. First, by developing a guided visit in Quechua of the house-museum, in order to make everyone feel included. Then, by organizing arts and crafts live sessions throughout the Ayacucho region that will be accessible to children, in particular those living in remote areas who might not be able to come and visit the house-museum. And finally, by attending fairs abroad, to share the traditions of Ayacucho with more people.
The city of Ayacucho is indeed in great need of initiatives to make it more attractive to tourists, in particular foreigners. From around 1980 to 2000, the attacks of the Shining Path terrorist group and the backlash of the Peruvian army caused the death of thousands and deeply wounded—both literally and figuratively—the people of Ayacucho. In consequence, many still fear the region, when it is an absolute wonder to visit. From its archaeological past to its delicious foods, Ayacucho has much to offer. As the city rises from its ashes, Patricia welcomes the opportunity to “be able to embrace our culture more than before.”
Images (© Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay):
- Interior of the Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay
- Facade of the Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay
- Retablo figures
- Interior of the Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay and retablo
- Alfredo López Morales teaches a workshop at the Casa Museo Joaquín López Antay
Reopening on October 19, 2021
+51 9566 95466