As I turn the corner onto a quiet, residential-looking street, I spot it. The most unlikely looking museum I’ve come across stands meekly on the other side of the road. The seemingly impenetrable solid black door to this small museum suggests that it might be closed, but the abierto sign assures me that it’s open for business. Just as well, I thought, a wasted journey out here would have been slightly irksome. Not because it’s far, just because I’m lazy.
I ring the doorbell, and a muffled voice answers, asking if I want to visit the museum. “Uh, sí, por favor…gracias”, comes my slightly wary response. I hear footsteps and a few moments later the door springs open and I am ushered into a dark room lit only by the cabinets filled with South American artefacts that line the walls.
This is the Museo de Arte Étnico Americano Pajcha in Salta, Argentina. And the intriguing-looking man standing in front of me is Diego, my tour guide and the historian for the museum. Without being asked if I wanted a tour guide, and before really realising that that’s what he was, I was being shown a selection of beautiful textiles from the pre-Columbian era, made by civilisations such as the Nazca from the Peruvian south coast circa 100BC to 800AD. Darkened by time, these small fragments of woven fabric were in stark contrast to the row of brightly coloured reams of fabric folded over a railing on the adjacent wall. Diego tells me that this is the brilliant idea of the museum’s director, Liliana, to combine the old world with the new. These new textiles sourced from all over Latin America, Diego informs me, are made using the same techniques as of old, which include the use of natural dyes, such as ground up cochineal for crimson tints.
This theme of linking the past and the present seems to be the crux of the whole museum and what makes it so interesting. To see the changes that have taken place over the last few centuries is fascinating, but what’s more, to see that traditions from this old world are being brought forth into our modernised, globalised century is very encouraging, especially when places like Museo Pajcha, and people like Diego, put so much emphasis on educating children about these societies that are so important to the identity and history of Latin America.
There is so much to see in this small museum (with just seven rooms, spread over two storeys) that detailing all of the highlights here would be a challenging task. All that’s left to say is that if you “Prepare your attention”, as Diego so frequently tells you to do, you will be truly impressed with all that this wonderful private museum has to offer.
Diego, the idiosyncratic tour guide
Museo de Arte Étnico Americano Pajcha, 20 de Febrero 838 (Mon–Sat 10am–1pm & 4pm–8pm) www.museopajchasalta.com.ar
Prices vary. For foreign visitors: AR$30. Tour guide (recommended): AR$10.