Colonialism: A Collision of Civilizations
The year 1492 marked the start of one of the most dramatic cultural encounters in history: the confrontation between the peoples of Europe and of the Americas, who until that point had been unaware of each other’s existence. The effect of this encounter on the American
indigenous populations would be profoundly traumatic.
What Europeans described as discovery and conquest of a New World was experienced by the Americas’ ancient peoples as an invasion accompanied by exploitation, enslavement, the imposition of foreign values, and forced religious conversion. The coming of the Spanish, who brought with them the Inquisition, Portuguese, British, French, and Dutch disrupted or
destroyed ways of life that had existed for millennia, and often resulted in the annihilation of entire populations. The Europeans then brought in African slaves, of whom 90% settled in Portuguese and Spanish colonies. The flourishing of colonial society was built upon the grueling labor of these slaves, who left an African imprint on the Americas.
At first, European Christian art was imported to the colonies, to be followed by the artists themselves. Later on, artists who were native or mestizo (of mixed European and native American ancestry) displaced them, working under the supervision of missionaries. Eventually these artists formed independent guilds with distinctive local styles, such as the Peruvian Cuzco School established in 1688. Art and religion remained inseparable for the ancient peoples, and their works combined Catholicism with enduring Precolumbian concepts. Some of these beliefs continued uninterrupted, and today efforts are being made to revive and preserve the ancestral heritage of the Americas.