The Gold We inherited, the Gold of Our Dreams

Gold has fascinated mankind for millennia. What ancient civilization did not glimpse the sun in its yellow glow, or seek proximity to immortality by bathing in its lasting shine? In Peru, my native country, gold was used in the sacred ceremonies of pre-Columbian indigenous cultures as early as 2000 BC, and was later forcibly seized from Incan temples by Spanish conquistadors. As the Italian historian Antonello Gerbi once noted, long before man ever set foot on South America, the future of Peru was written in the ore embedded in its earth.

This is the legacy we Peruvians have inherited. Today, Peru is a major supplier of the gold that circulates in the world, as it was during the Spanish colony. Gold continues to fuel our dreams, shaping events in the process. Global demand for gold in recent decades – from financial traders, banks, tech companies and jewelers – have supported legal and illegal mines in Peru that have enriched many while enslaving or dispossessing others and polluting the environment.

For this project, I turned my lens to focus on the bigger picture: gold’s association with both the sacred and the sinister in Peruvian culture throughout the centuries. I visited the cradle of pre-Colombian civilizations that once exalted gold as a symbol of the divine, before the Spanish monetized it by introducing the concept of gold-based coinage and currency. I wanted to explore what gold meant to ancient Peruvians and what significance it still holds for contemporary society.

The images expose the tension between gold’s celestial roots and its current use as a status booster. They also hint at the superstitious world that has surrounded the metal throughout time. In northern Peru, an ancient lake believed to hold rich gold deposits remains untouched for fear of angering the valley’s gods.

I originally envisioned bright photographs to mimic the sun-like shine of gold. But I ended up being drawn to the darkness surrounding gold’s warm glow that hints at the mystery, greed and violence associated with it throughout time. That, too, I believe, is part of gold’s legacy in Peru. The yellow flicker glimpsed in the darkness, the promise of riches for anyone willing to grasp at it.

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