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Ximena Gomez Links Senegal, Spain, and Peru


In summer 2018 Ximena Gómez (History of Art) went to Senegal and Spain to complete the research for her dissertation. She began her trip in the Senegalese capital, where she attended Dak’art, a biennial exhibition of African art. In addition to encountering contemporary African art and artists, she enjoyed meeting the exhibition’s hostesses, who were dressed in the traditional clothing of Senegalese ethnic groups, including the jewelry she had written about in a chapter on the Virgin of the Antigua. She also acquired a Christian wax-print fabric with the Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours, whose West African interpretation of the Virgin she will treat in the conclusion of her dissertation.

She next traveled to Casamance, in southern Senegal, where many of the black Antigua confraternity members she studies originally hailed from. While the ritual objects they would have used are not extant, it helped to see the unique environment that produced them. Seeing how the forest immediately meets the sea in this area, she speculates that enslaved West Africans brought to Lima would have found the coast and fishing culture of Lima familiar, but the lack of wooded areas jarring. She now suspects that the confraternity’s early purchase of a wooden processional image could have had special significance to the Senegambian devotees of the Virgin of the Antigua in Lima.

In Madrid, visits to the Prado and the Museo de América allowed her to see, among other things, a city view of Lima dating to the seventeenth century, which gives a rich visual representation of a city teeming with commerce and a large multiracial population. This, rather than the outdated narrative of a “Spanish city,” is the version of Lima that her project hopes to add to art historical study.

Since her project deals with limeño cults of the Virgin, it was important to see the Spanish cults from which Lima’s developed. Pilgrimages to multiple shrines of the Virgin included the Virgin of Montserrat near Barcelona, the Virgin of Guadalupe in Extremadura, and the Virgin of the Antigua in Seville. Though she is no longer well-known, the Spanish Guadalupe used to be extremely popular, particularly in the early modern period and among the first invaders of Mexico and Peru. She found it particularly interesting to see how, despite sharing little more than the title, the Guadalupe shrine in Spain claims a link to the cult of the famous Mexican Virgin (this link is not important at the Mexican shrine). These kinds of transatlantic relationships are at the core of her project, and considering the Spanish perspectives on American counterparts was useful, since these would have affected how colonial peninsulares perceived the indigenous and black cults in the Americas.

In Seville she spent days transcribing at the Archivo General de Indias and evenings seeing the images that most directly affected the religious life of colonial Peru and Mexico. At the AGI she found a number of letters written by early bishops that describe processions and confraternal life in Lima. One from 1619, which lists the confraternities active in the city of Lima and its archbishopric, has been cited many times in studies of Peru’s sodalities. Seeing the letter in full will help her update some of the information on limeño confraternities that has been considered definitive. In another letter, complaints about procession decorum and the (lack of) respect shown to the archbishop speak to how important these occasions were in terms of public display. Evidence like this helps to contextualize the black Antigua and indigenous Copacabana confraternities in Lima and their relationships to religious visual culture.