Public Program

In Dialogue: On the Chimú Prisoner Textile

In Dialogue: On the Chimú Prisoner Textile

In conjunction with the exhibition Enchanted: Visual Histories of the Central Andes, on view through November 14, 2021, join art historians Susan E. Bergh and Andrew Hamilton, and conservator Kari Dodson in an online conversation moderated by curator Paul R. Davis about the history and interpretation of a 13th-century painted textile from the Chimú, an ancient empire centered at the city of Chan Chan, near present-day Trujillo, Peru.

Commonly referred to as the “Prisoner Textile,” it pictures hundreds of bound captives, some apparently in procession. The original textile was monumental, estimated to measure at least 75 ft. (22.9 m) in length. Shortly after being discovered in 1951, it was cut into multiple fragments for sale. Ten of these fragments are now in museum collections in Europe and the U.S. Supported by a 2020-21 Bank of America Art Conservation Project Grant, the ongoing study of the uncut, two-panel fragment in the Menil’s permanent collection adds new information about the materials and methods of application used in its manufacture and will inform the preservation and possible digital reconstruction of the extant and fragments.

About the speakers:

  • Susan E. Bergh

Susan E. Bergh, Ph.D., has served as curator of the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Pre-Columbian and Native North American collections since 2000, and she currently chairs the Department of the Arts of Africa and the Americas. At work on an upcoming exhibition concerning the Chimú Empire of Peru’s north coast, she also organized the show Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes (2012). Her exhibition work has been supported by the Getty Foundation, the National Foundation for the Humanities, and the Ohio Humanities Council. Bergh began her curatorial career in New York City, where she worked at the Brooklyn Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. She has also taught at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

  • Andrew Hamilton

Andrew Hamilton, Ph.D., is Associate Curator of Arts of the Americas at the Art Institute of Chicago and a Lecturer in the Department of Art History at the University of Chicago. After studying the section of the "Prisoner Textile" in the collection of the Princeton University Art Museum, Hamilton recently proposed a new reconstruction of the complete original wall hanging. His work broadly explores how objects were made, used, and eventually disused, in order to understand why they were created and what cultural meanings they bore. Hamilton’s first book, Scale & the Incas, was published by Princeton University Press in 2018. He is presently writing his second book, The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Biography of a Royal Inca Tunic, on an intricately patterned tunic conserved at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, a project that was recently supported by the Getty Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.

  • Kari Dodson

Kari Dodson is Associate Objects Conservator at the Menil Collection. While preparing objects for display in Enchanted: Visual Histories of the Central Andes, she has been collaborating with other conservators, conservation scientists, and imaging specialists in an effort to characterize the wide range of materials used in their creation. This work builds on her experience with similar collections in institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Museum of the American Indian, and will inform the ongoing preservation of the works in the Menil’s care. Her preliminary study of the colorants used in the Menil’s fragment of the "Prisoner Textile" is included in the online publication for the exhibition.

  • Paul R. Davis

Paul R. Davis, Ph.D., is the curator for Enchanted: Visual Histories of the Central Andes. As Curator of Collections at the Menil Collection, he oversees the museum’s holdings of art from Africa, Pacific Islands, the Americas, the ancient world, medieval and early modern Europe. He was a co-editor the Menil’s publication Object Biographies: Collaborative Approaches to Ancient Mediterranean Art (2021), and his previous exhibition projects include ReCollecting Dogon, (Feb. 3–July 9, 2017), Mapa Wiya: Your Map’s Not Needed, (Sept. 13, 2019–Feb. 2, 2020), as well as installations of permanent collection galleries for the reopening of the Menil in September 2018.

About the series:

In Dialogue is the Menil Collection’s series of live, online conversations. Menil curators are joined by notable scholars, artists, and art professionals for engaging discussions about the museum’s collection, current exhibitions, and ideas shaping contemporary discourses about art. All programs are free and open to everyone.