Nicolás Grum’s installation The Huanca Rebellion, 2022, was inspired by a trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Among the glass display cases, the artist encountered “Copper Man,” a pre-Columbian mummy that had been discovered in a mine in Chuquicamata in the north of Chile. Grum used the history of this human-cum-artifact to challenge the tactics of colonial appropriation used to build museum collections.
For the installation, Grum erected an exact copy of the display cases found in the American Museum of Natural History, only here the glass is shattered and the panels smashed. Just behind the case, a cast replica of the Copper Man lies curled on a mound of earth on the floor. The tableau suggests an (unsuccessful) escape attempt. On the wall are a map and two quotes spelled out through arrangements of copper pipes: one excerpts a letter from the first buyer of the mummy, while the other frames a pamphlet from his first exhibition in the United States. Both texts are in English. Documents in another showcase track the mummy’s itinerary after its discovery, including a stop at the Chilean pavilion at the Pan-American Exposition in 1901 in Buffalo, before banker J. P. Morgan purchased it. Resting on soil in a special glass box are two fingers that the artist crafted in copper to allude to the mummy’s missing digits. These are kept careful watch over by a costume that was used for an intervention within the New York museum. Footage of the event shows performer Jacinta Torres strolling through the galleries, casually examining the displays. When she finally comes to the mummy, she bursts into tears, a kind of act of reparation. This exhibition—with its archives and replicas—seeks to perform a similar penance, bearing witness to the how colonial extraction was not limited to precious minerals and ore, but treated human beings as just another raw material.
Translated from Spanish by Kate Sutton.