Pearls from artists* # 572Agosto 16, 2023
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The use of color to paint the Chinchorro mummies is interesting. According to anthropologist Victor Turner (1970), colors are experiences of social relationships. The use of particular colors in prehistory, then, has meaning even if today we cannot comprehend these meanings. Turner said that white, red, and black are the earliest colors produced by humans and they “provide a kind of primordial classification of reality” (Turner, 1970:90). This color trilogy is associated with reproduction, life, and death. Obviously, in the case of Chinchorros, black and red colors predominated. Black is equated with darkness, like the night, invisible yet present. Black is what is hidden, it is a mystical transition (Turner, 1970:109, 89-73). Black represents death, but not the end of a cycle, not an annihilating, rather a change of status and existence (Turner, 1970:71-72). Red on the other hand is equal to membership, change, blood, and social place (Turner, 1970:90). Red can be associated with life, here and in the afterworld.
The use of colors as symbols is rather universal, but the meaning of each color varies from culture to culture. In western societies black may be worn to symbolize mourning, but on other occasions it signifies relevance. The Yahgan Indians in South America used body painting with intricate patterns of black, white, and red to show their sadness and grief when someone died (Gusinde, 1937). Black was the color to symbolize mourning among the Incas (Montez, 1929:222; Zuidema, 1992:23).
Bernardo T. Arrizabalaga in Beyond Death: The Chinchorro Mummies of Ancient Chile
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