Roughing it for art history

Chancellor Dunning Trust Lecture invitee talks about colonial Peruvian art next Tuesday

Gauvin Bailey lectures in Colombia, where he spent a year conducting research on German influence in Colombian art.
Gauvin Bailey lectures in Colombia, where he spent a year conducting research on German influence in Colombian art.

He’s been labelled a real-life Indiana Jones, but Gauvin Bailey insists he’s just a regular man.

Bailey, a professor at Aberdeen University in Scotland, will give a public talk this Tuesday, Ellis Hall Auditorium at 6 p.m., on his studies of Baroque and Renaissance art in former European colonies.

He’s at Queen’s as this year’s Chancellor Dunning Trust Lecture invitee.

“My work has generally taken me to very far, to what people might think of as exotic, places,” he said. “The monuments I study tend to be very difficult to get to and it involves a great deal of ingenuity to get to them.”

Bailey, who speaks five languages, has done research in India, Bolivia, Japan and Peru, to name a few places.

He said although he has generally had good experiences working around the world, he meets opposition in some villages.

He has been mugged three times—in Pakistan, Brazil and Peru.

“Sometimes there is open hostility to me because I’m from another culture,” he said. “There’s considerable resentment to the way white people in their country treat them and the way European or North American industrialists exploit their land. … There are villages where people will throw rocks at me or at the car.”

Bailey said he has also narrowly avoided dangerous circumstances.

“Two years ago, I went to a remote part of Peru and as we were going up to the top of a mountain, a bus driven by a young child and full of people drove past,” he said. “The next day when I was coming back down, the bus had fallen off the mountain and killed everyone on board. Since then, I no longer take buses.”

Bailey will discuss the Andean hybrid Baroque style during his lecture. His research primarily focuses on the merging of two visual cultures to form a third.

“I was looking at the churches throughout Peru that combine images from Incan religion with Christianity,” he said. “It … reveals a very profound combination of religions and culture.” Bailey, a former Toronto resident, said he almost accepted an offer from Queen’s School of Music when he was choosing his undergraduate program. He was going to become a cellist.

At the last minute, he chose to go to the University of Toronto for art history and eventually received his PhD from Harvard University.

Last summer, Bailey did field work in Colombia to prepare for a new book he’s writing. Since his first book was published in 1998 he has written about a dozen books. “[My] new book is looking at non-Spanish Europeans working in the Americas,” he said.

Bailey said one of his favourite memories of his time in Colombia is when the bishop in the village where he was working held a celebration and brought out processional silver and ornaments used for Holy Week in the Catholic faith.

“These aren’t things to put in museums,” he said, adding that the ornaments date back to the colonial period in Colombia. “They’re still part of people’s daily lives.”

Queen’s art history professor Stephanie Dickey said she nominated Bailey for the Chancellor Dunning Trust lectureship because his work is applicable to many different departments.

Bailey will be at Queen’s for three days. Aside from his main lecture, he will give informal talks in various art, religious studies, geography and history classes.

Every year, each department has an opportunity to compete for their candidate to be brought in to give a lecture.

The University Senate picks the speaker.

“He’s very ambitious in taking a broad interdisciplinary perspective in his study of visual culture and its relationship to the religion and politics of the time,” Dickey said. “The culture of colonial Peru was experiencing some of the same tensions we have today between people of different cultures and religions trying to live together.”

Gauvin Bailey will give his talk in Ellis Hall auditorium on Tuesday at 6 p.m.

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