Phillips Explores Art of the Inca from South Africa


On April 3, Ruth Anne Phillips, a visiting Professor of Art History, discussed Inca architectural sites located in Peru.  Her lecture, entitled “Inca Stone in the Round: Performative Boulders and Wise Water,” described the research she has done with Inca sites in and surrounding Machu Picchu.

Phillips began her lecture, given in the library, by describing who the Inca were as “the indigenous population in power in South America from around 1430 to 1532 AD.” She explained not only where the Inca Empire was located, but also how they made use of the materials of the land. Phillips stated that the Inca “learned to cope with the extreme environment.” The Inca accomplished this by constructing remarkable stonework.

Phillips presented her topic through a series of photographs and an explanation of the architecture seen in each.  Due to the spiritual nature of the Inca, Phillips noted that these sites were considered sacred sites or “huacas.” Phillips said huacas can be “any feature on the landscape” and this proves how inanimate landscapes are “active participants” in the Inca culture. According to Phillips, these huacas stood for the Inca’s “belief in sacred landscape.”

Phillips’ research particularly focused on the Chachabamba site located in Peru. This small site, surveyed by Paul Fejos in the 1940s, contains a walled boulder which was the foundation of the research that Phillips conducted. This walled boulder represents the “Inca’s ability to frame natural features of the landscape,” explained Phillips. She also discussed how the walled boulder, which is “one of over eight known walled boulders,” is a good example of fine Inca masonry.

Phillips also mentioned how “water is a major part” of Chachabamba and the other sacred Inca sites.  She described how the Incas believed that “the place where two bodies of water merge together were places of harmony.” On her own research excursions, Phillips noted that “even during dry seasons you can hear the constant rushing sounds of the Urabamba River.”  The importance of the relationship between water and masonry was expressed through Inca baths and fountains.

While Phillips shared her humorous anecdotes about the difficulties of getting to Chachabamba, she also stressed the artistic value that architecture held for the Inca. She looks forward to continuing her research projects on the architectural style of sacred Inca sites.