Spirits Made Manifest in the Peruvian Jungle

22 Oct

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.


                                                                                                                        Mark Twain



Throw off the bowlines, indeed! Instead of participating in the “safe harbor” of an art fair honoring the Fall Arts Kickoff, I went south….as in southern hemisphere south. The opportunity to embark on a spiritual journey of healing, creativity and deep appreciation with the Shipibo artisans of Peru was exactly the kickoff we at Blythe Projects seek and support.


Thanks to a stray dog on the runway, our delayed flight from Lima into Pucallpa provided us with humbling and, for this LA woman, strange aerial views. Debarking the plane into the rich humid haze of the Amazon, I reconvened with my two travel companions for the week. With our tents strapped to our backpacks strapped to our backs, we hailed a moto-carriage and headed toward the banks of the Ucayali River. Crowded with merchants, children, piles of lumber and bananas, single engine tuk-tuks and the sounds of Spanish mixing with the native language of Shipibo, the Ucayali is a major tributary of the mighty Amazon…the life force of the Shipibo people. Thanks to engine failure, our delayed tuk-tuk trip afforded us the opportunity to steep in the power of the Amazon; including a glimpse of the magical and rare pink Amazonian river dolphin. As our hearts opened and our souls called out for more–our journey was well underway.


After a tricky climb up the bank and a 20-minute walk through the jungle, we arrived at the village of Santa Isabella teeming with curious children, chickens and roosters, and warm hospitality. Celebrating both art and spirituality, I was excited to meet with the renowned Shipibo artisans.


The women carry out all the textile painting, embroidery and beading and are initiated into the sacred craft at a very young age. To the contemporary art fan, these intricate and complex geometric patterns may resemble a Peter Halley gone wild. For the Shipibo, these patterns are an expression of interconnected-ness, the one-ness of all creation and the union of perceived opposites. They are an ongoing dialogue with the spiritual world and the sprits of the rainforest and extend far beyond the edges of the fabric. They permeate the entire world.


The key element in these one-of-a-kind designs is the Shipibo shamans’ healing work with plant medicines and icaros (chants). Easing into a deep primal trace, the Shipibo can hear an icaro by looking at a design and paint a design by listening to an icaro. These designs are visual music and harmony made manifest…designed to balance the mind, body and spirit.


From Pythagoras and Plato right on through the Renaissance, art and music were believed to heal the body and elevate the soul. I still believe. Perched off LA’s Sunset Strip, the place I call home, I close my eyes and remember that I, too, beat to the ancient rhythms of the cosmos. We all do. 


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