Amazonian Contemporary Art, and its Impacts in Fixing Imaginaries in Transmutational Cultures
Location SOAS Senate House - S209
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Giuliana Borea (Institute of Latin American Studies, SAS, University of London/ Universidad Católica del Peru) email

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Short abstract

This panel explores how Amazonian contemporary art is participating and influencing other sensory-aesthetic registers in Amazonian communities, particularly mythology, ritual and shamanism, as it examines the impacts of fixing imaginaries when transmutation is central to Amazonian ontologies.

Long abstract

Today Amazonian contemporary art is acquiring more visibility as it circulates through national and international art venues. The growing interest and awareness on Amazonian ontologies by academia and art platforms with the influential studies of Descola (2006) and Viveiros de Castro (2009) are helping, but difficulties in improving the protocols of showing, writing and understanding Amazonian art in the Western art world still remain. As scholarly attention is driven by this international mobility of indigenous art, this panel aims, however, to change the focus back to the indigenous communities and explores the different ways in which Amazonian indigenous art and artists impact their own collectivities not only in socio- economic terms but particularly in its owns ontological and epistemological dimensions.

The panel seeks to explore two aspects of the same phenomena, examining (i) how Amazonian art, particularly in its forms of figuration participates and influences other sensory-aesthetic and performative registers such as mythology, ritual and shamanism, as well as on fixing imaginaries when transmutation or metamorphosis of bodies, behavior and senses is central to Amazonian cosmopolitics; (ii) examining Amazonian art as a device for incorporating alterity in terms of subjects, objects and techniques (exogenous landscapes, modern technologies, perspective, oil painting, etc.).

Some of the questions that this panel seeks to approach are what does art do in stabilizing imaginaries? How do artists represent mutable and non-visual beings? how does art impact other sensory- aesthetics practices? and, how does the agency of Amazonian art enact in its own sociocultural environment?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Shipibo-Konibo Kene: An operator to formalize and link the discontinuity between the presence and absence of agents and its capacity to lodge their idea of alterity

Author: Luis Alberto López (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) email

Short abstract

The Shipibo-Konibo kene constitute an operator that formalizes the coexistence between what denotes the absence of an agent, exhibits its presence and resolves the instant of emptiness of meaning of that relationship. These designs lodge their idea of alterity and the fluidity of their identity.

Long abstract

As in other Pano societies, the ontology and praxis of the Shipibo-Konibo (peruvian amerindian society) incorporate the transit between different sensory realities and entities as a central aspect in the relational construction of subjectivity and alterity. This constituent permeability is expressed not only in the transversal inclusion of non-visible agents or dimensions under counter-intuitive modes of thought and action, but also in the capacity to integrate - in a disjunctive way - other interlocutors and points of view. The opening of this epistemology has consequently permitted to show the agency of diverse artifacts and devices, as well as to attribute new meanings to their own ethnic identification.

Considering this system of relations and action, and based on the field work carried out in the native communities of Paoyhán and San Francisco, as well as in the city of Yarinacocha, the question arises about the resources with which the Shipibo-Konibo count to stabilize this unbalance continuity. The present text addresses the Kene as an operator that formalizes the coexistence between what denotes the absence of an agent or an event, exhibits its presence in terms of continuity, and resolves the instant of emptiness of meaning that dynamizes the relationship between both instances.

As per the aforementioned, these geometrical designs would constitute a modality through which not only their idea of alterity would be lodged and anticipated, but also the fluidity that permeates the sensory world and craft practices of this Amerindian society, as well as its redefinition as an indigenous people.

Ye'kuana Basketry from the Venezuelan Amazon: Transferences and Adaptations of Uses and Myths in the Present

Author: Alessandra Caputo Jaffe (Adolfo Ibañez University, Chile) email

Short abstract

This paper studies Ye'kuana contemporary basketry (Venezuelan Amazon). It compares the changes and continuities in mythical meanings, visual symbols and practical uses between traditional male basketry -made for domestic purposes-, and a new kind of female basketry -made for commercial purposes-.

Long abstract

This paper studies Ye'kuana contemporary basketry in its intricate relationship between visual culture and their myths of creation: Basketry constantly interweaves the cultural and domesticated human-world with the "wild" and potentially dangerous world of nature, adapting and reinventing itself according to historic contingencies. Traditional Ye'kuana basketry is mainly made by males, since they are the main intermediaries between the "savage" outer world and the "domestic" world. They weave baskets taking vegetal materials from the forest not before asking for permission to the "owner-spirits" of each plant. This process goes through different ritualized steps before plant (which comes from an external and potentially dangerous environment) can properly function in the domestic realm, such as the preparation of manioc wheat and manioc bread.

In the past decades, women have begun to make new forms of basketry, made specifically for commerce with the Western world -tourists and sellers from handcrafts shops. It is often thought that these baskets lack of "authentic" mythical and symbolical meaning. However, in our surveys we have been able to prove that this new basketry has taken new symbolical values, and that the creation myths have been adapted to include this type of basketry in their narratives.

This study analyses the malleability and adaptability that both, visual culture and myth have faced in the past 40 years, in which societies have experienced numerous changes from the increasing contact with the Western world and the process of evangelization. Specifically, it shows the resilience of mythical knowledge and symbolic meanings through drastic changes through contact with the Western world.

Abstract and figurative images in the Yanomami culture of the Brazilian Amazon

Author: Lilian Papini (EHESS ) email

Short abstract

This article seeks to understand the transformations of the notion of image among the Yanomami of Brazilian Amazon. In order to achieve this objective, I present yanomami practices of imagery production by approaching the transition from traditional recourse to images to their contemporary usages.

Long abstract

The main goal of this work is to understand the processes involving the appropriation of non-traditional images by the Yanomami. Considering this, I determine a relational network between shamanic images and paper drawings that I obtained from fieldwork with the Yanomami. In addition, I examine here the origins of the most ordinary visual figures within the Yanomami communities. In this article, I explore the transformation of image production in a society that traditionally ignores the visual arts as a form of registration; a society that maintains ritual practices in order to eliminate artifacts linked to personal memory but that now accepts and produces drawings of their social practices, environment, rituals and myths, previously considered as invisible images. The analysis is established in the confrontation between yanomami people and its dynamics of contact with a western figurative society, which roots its history in physical documentation and visual images. I intend to understand the different forms of graphic, ritual and verbal expression of the Yanomami in order to relate them to the indigenous aesthetics by means of concepts such as creativity, production and reproduction.

The Impact of Symbolism and the Work of Indigenous Artists in Cantagallo and in their Place of Origin: The case of Roldan Pinedo and Elena Valera

Author: Daniel Castillo (San Agustin University) email

Short abstract

The research is the result of an ethnographic approach that allows to contextualize indigenous pictorial art showing its development and influence in the community of Cantagallo in Lima, through the interpretations and narrations of two Amazonian shipibos painters.

Long abstract

The community of Cantagallo is located in Lima and is comprised by indigenous people from the Amazon region of Pucallpa, specifically from the ethnic group called "Shipibo-Conibos", who migrated to Peru's capital to work as artists. Over time they developed paintings with new iconographies and cultural symbols to such an extent that they inserted their works in the Peruvian and international art market in less than ten years. The new artists gained spaces, prestige and money that influenced their communities of origin and their urban community. This talk is based on my fieldwork during 2011 and 2015 and explores the cultural policies, the artists' versions and the iconography of their art works. In this talk I will focus on Elena Valera and Roldán Pinedo, who while developing their art were promoting the seasonal migration of their relatives between the Amazon and the capital and gaining leadership in Cantagallo as they influence political and economic decision-making.

Three [Peruvian Huitoto] Artists: On/and Beyond Mythology, Shamanism and Politics

Author: Giuliana Borea (Institute of Latin American Studies, SAS, University of London/ Universidad Católica del Peru) email

Short abstract

Highlighting the heterogeneity of Amazonian contemporary art, this talk explores the work and the ways in which three Huitoto artists dialogue with, distance from, and impact on their local communities as they navigate in the contemporary art system.

Long abstract

This talk explores the artistic process and work of three Huitoto artists - Santiago Yahuarcani, Rember Yahuarcani (his son), and Brus Rubio (a Bora Huitoto artist) - by focusing on the different ways in which they dialogue with, distance from, and impact on their local indigenous communities as they navigate in the contemporary art system and transnational artistic networks. I will focus on the artists' decisions and compositions in providing a visual-material figuration to un-fixed beings, oral narratives, as well as to historical memory and various other community and personal experiences. In this way, my talk intends to move beyond the specific focus of an ayahuasca-shamanic Amazonian art, to explore the artists' heterogeneous narratives, aesthetics, politics, and tactics. I also address their strategic use and tensions with "the indigenous", their links with academic narratives, and highlight the political-aesthetical impacts of their work.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.