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The 2020 Christmas altarpiece by the Quispe Flores brothers. Photo by Artes Gris.
The 2020 Christmas altarpiece by the Quispe Flores brothers. Photo: Artes Gris.

An Andean nativity scene in pandemic times

The Ayacucho retablo is a piece of handicraft that fuses Christmas traditions with the customs of the Andean world.

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In Ayacucho, in the central Andes region of Peru, in a town called Quinua, there are a large number of renowned artisans dedicated to the art of making 'retablos,' or nativity scenes. For their presence, the town is considered the "Capital of the retablistas." 

The "Retablo ayacuchano" has become a cultural heritage icon of Peru. Representations of the traditional nativity scene from the customs of the Andean world are some of the oldest artistic expressions of the country. Made with small pieces made by hand and in detail, viewers can recognize every popular festival, religious manifestation or historical event in Peru. 

Despite being a traditional art, the retablo ayacuchano remains in force and, like culture, is alive and adapting to changes. Since 2020, the Ayacucho retablo has been updated to incorporate COVID-19, and now has a "pandemic" version.

This season, Ayacucho artisans bring the reinvention of the classic "nacimiento" or, in retablo format, with the figures wearing masks. The brothers Luis and Reynaldo Quispe Flores, recognized artisans, were the pioneers of these novel retablos.

The initiative arises as a reflection of reality, as a tribute to those who have died in the last two years of the pandemic, and as recognition to those who have been fighting daily against the difficult health crisis. 

With recycled materials, and with the greatest of care in each piece, the Ayacucho artisans find ways to reinvent themselves and connect with people through their pieces.

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