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Cecilia Vicuña: Disappeared Quipu

May 18–November 25, 2018

Cecilia Vicuña (born 1948, Santiago, Chile). Skyscraper Quipu (Incan quipu performance, New York), 2006. Rephotographed 2018. Cotton, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. © Cecilia Vicuña. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong. (Photo: Matthew Herrmann)

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Here are some questions visitors asked us during their visit to this exhibition.

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Does the quipu convey principally numbers (dates, ages, distances, quantities, etc.) or also narrative information regarding history within the Andean corpus of knowledge?
Both, actually. Early scholars thought that the knots could only record numbers, but further analysis makes it very clear that some quipu include much more information including stories, genealogies, and even poetry. 
I was wondering, who owns a quipu? An individual or government?
The quipu could be considered the property of the government in some cases, especially the administrative ones. Specially trained record-keepers called khipukamayuq (“knot-makers” or “knot-keepers”), constructed, maintained, and read that data. It was the khipukamayuq who likely held the quipu in their possession. But they were employees of the state. Does that make sense?
Yes, thank you.
What is a "quipu?"
A quipu is a method of recording information used in the Andes since ancient times. The object itself is made from a series of strings of different colors and materials that have been knotted in specific ways to encode information.
The exhibition of Vicuña's work alongside some historical quipu from our collection uses the form of the quipu to address the history of the Andean region.
What do these quipu say? What did they kept track of?
Well the historical quipu, used by the Inca and other ancient Andean cultures could be used to record information. They are separated into two broad categories, Administrative and Narrative.
Administrative quipus kept track of things like census or tax information whereas Narrative quipus are thought to record information like stories, genealogies, even poetry!
Although a lot of information regarding how to read quipus is lost, Scholars are closest to understanding administrative quipus. The different kinds of knots and the location where they are tied on the strings are representative of numbers!
Excellent. Thank you!
You're welcome!