BIRDS ON THE KISWAR TREE by Odi Gonzalez translated by Lynn Levin reviewed by J.G. McClure

by Odi Gonzalez, trans. Lynn Levin
2Leaf Press, 140 pages

reviewed by J.G. McClure

It’s the Last Supper. The apostles pray earnestly as Christ radiates a heavenly light, bread-loaf in hand. It’s a scene we know well, with a key difference: dead-center of the canvas, surrounded by corn and chilies, a roasted guinea pig splays its feet in the air.

This is a prime example of the Cusco School of painting, an artistic movement that developed during Peru’s colonial period and that forms the subject of Birds on the Kiswar Tree. As translator Lynn Levin explains in her notes:

Painting flourished in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Peru when Spain sent highly-accomplished painters, some of them painter-priests, to the Andes in order to evangelize the people through art and art instruction. The Church, however, put severe restrictions on the native artists: they were permitted to paint only religious subjects. The artists responded by producing work that was pious, syncretistic, and subversive. In hidden nooks in churches, Quechua artists painted angels with harquebuses; they furnished the Garden of Eden with Andean birds, trees, and flowers…