The colorful Sarhua Paintings were declared national cultural heritage by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, representing an important pre-Columbine tradition considered to be a form of communication and a key-element in the social life of the people of Sarhua in Ayacucho.
The recognition of the paintings was an initiative of the Popular Artists Association of Sarhua (ADAPS), local artists and authorities. The ministry processed the petition and declared them national heritage on November 2.
The resolution states that the Sarhua paintings “promote the Andean creativity and conserve the family and collective memory. They also represent a genuine cultural element of the people that, regarding the antiquity and authenticity of certain elements, styles and techniques, strengthen the identity and sense of belonging to the community.”
The people of Sarhua give the paintings as a present when someone builds a new house or forms a family. Painted by a spiritual godfather, they depict the history of the family, showing every member in their daily activities that represent them the most. They also depict the ‘minka,’ the collective effort of the community to build a house or another necessity.
They’re usually painted over wood, but a variety of materials are used. The natural paint is extracted from soil and plants, and feathers are traditionally used instead of brushes.
The ADAPS has in great part contributed to the popularization of the paintings outside of Peru, taking pieces for exhibitions in several countries in Latin America and Europe.
Being a cultural expression, they are also in constant evolution. They currently depict not only the history of the family in a genealogical fashion, but also include elements from the regional oral tradition, myths and community history.