At a recent event called “Touch the Genitals of the Mochicas," the Museo Larco and the League Against Cancer invited visitors to touch replicas of ancient statuary. (all images courtesy Museo Larco)

There are many takes on the healing power of art, but a new initiative at Lima’s Museo Larco is taking things past second base. The Museo Larco’s permanent collection holds a vast array of pre-Columbian Andean art, and recently the Peruvian arm of an international cancer prevention group, League Against Cancer, has been using ancient erotic statuary to encourage men to check themselves for signs of prostate and testicular cancer.

Not to put too fine a point on it, last month’s event was called “Touch the Genitals of the Mochicas,” and men in attendance were prompted to explore the business of several clay sculpture replicas to learn how to perform a cancer self-test on their testicles and penis.

“Timely detection of cancer of the external genitalia in men, both of the penis and testicles, is very low,” nurse Giselle Grillo from the League Against Cancer told Reuters. “Many do not know how to explore their genitals, what palpation is. With this we give an early diagnosis.”

According to data from the organization, roughly 10,000 cases of prostate, penis, and testicular cancer were diagnosed in Peru in 2021, with a tragic 45% only detected in advanced stages that offered slim chances of being cured.

The programming fits hand-in-glove with Museo Larco, which has an entire erotic art gallery that features ancient Peruvian ceramics called huacos, some of which display genitalia or appear engaged in various forms of sexual congress. The Moche civilization (also known as the Mochica culture or the Early, Pre- or Proto-Chimú) flourished in northern Peru from about 100 to 700 CE. According to the Museo Larco, Mochica pottery makers achieved a high degree of artistic development and produced naturalistic sculptures presenting scenes on the surfaces of their pottery using the so-called “fine line” technique. Many examples of Mochica pottery and assorted huacos are preserved in the museum’s collection.

Sculptures in the Museo Larco’s erotic gallery.

“The aim is to bring closer the knowledge of our ancestors about the human body, expressed through these ceramic vessels that we call the Erotic Huacos,” said Museo Larco Director Ulla Holmquist. We always think about the power of art to touch our hearts and minds, but as League Against Cancer proves, there may be huge benefits to it touching other parts as well!

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....