Mopa mopa—a translucent pale-green resin used by pre-Hispanic peoples in the area of Pasto, Colombia—is the principal medium for the lacquerware known as barniz de Pasto (Pasto varnish) produced in Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador from colonial times through the present day. The sticky resin from mopa mopa tree leaf-buds was treated, dyed, and made into sheets. Decorative designs were cut from the stretched sheets and applied, with heat, to a wooden object. The heat bonded the materials, and the resulting lacquer provided a durable, waterproof surface. This technique was often used to mimic the appearance of Asian lacquer.
Ilona Katzew, 2008
Artists in the town of Pasto (present-day Colombia) employed a resin from the mopa mopa tree to create their distinctive lacquer, known as barniz de Pasto (Pasto varnish). Layering the resin over silver leaf, they added a sparkling metallic sheen that recalled imported Asian lacquerware. Real and fictitious creatures—birds, unicorns, monkeys, dragons, and mermaids—drawn from Indigenous, Asian, and European traditions populate the chest’s decoration, demonstrating the circulation of a wide repertoire of imagery in the region.
From exhibition Archive of the World, 2022 (for more information see the catalogue entry by Rachel Kaplan in the accompanying publication, cat. no. 76, pp. 302–04)