Gender and the Boundaries of Dress in Contemporary Peru
Set in Arequipa during Peru’s recent years of crisis, this ethnography reveals how dress creates gendered bodies. It explores why people wear clothes, why people make art, and why those things matter in a war-torn land. Blenda Femenías argues that women’s clothes are key symbols of gender identity and resistance to racism. Moving between metropolitan Arequipa and rural Caylloma Province, the central characters are the Quechua- and Spanish-speaking maize farmers and alpaca herders of the Colca Valley. Their identification as Indians, whites, and mestizos emerges through locally produced garments called bordados. Because the artists who create these beautiful objects are also producers who carve an economic foothold, family workshops are vital in a nation where jobs are as scarce as peace. But ambiguity permeates all practices shaping bordados’ significance. Femenías traces contemporary political and ritual applications, not only Caylloma’s long-standing and violent ethnic conflicts, to the historical importance of cloth since Inca times. This is the only book about expressive culture in an Andean nation that centers on gender. In this feminist contribution to ethnography, based on twenty years’ experience with Peru, including two years of intensive fieldwork, Femenías reflects on the ways gender shapes relationships among subjects, research, and representation.
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