Ongoing - Amazonía Lima - Peru

Florencia Portocarrero

Reading time: 8 minutes



When Art, Healing, Ecology and Politics Travel the Same Path

Maya Maya Bainkin: Moving Forward in Circles. Shipibo Art and Future at the Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso

More than 60% of the Peruvian territory is part of the Amazon. Known locally as the Jungle, this vast and historically neglected region is a crucial space for the fight for the rights of various indigenous communities and the preservation of their ancestral knowledge. According to the 2017 National Census, around 25% of Peruvians identify themselves as indigenous and are grouped into 55 communities, most of them located within the Amazon.[1] Although there is a certain “common sense” about the fundamental role that these native peoples play in the protection of forest biodiversity, little is really known about their daily struggles and the tense relationship they maintain with the States in which they live.

But there is more, the Amazon is also at the center of some of the most important debates in terms of sustainability and planetary biopolitics, so the disputes surrounding this region place us beyond the immediate geography of the nine South American countries[2] that “share” territory and allow us to understand what is otherwise unrepresentable: the overlap between the current global climate crisis and the histories of violence experienced by the various indigenous communities that have inhabited it since time immemorial. In this convulsed context, the art world has become an important sphere for the enunciation and vindication of the rights of these communities that find themselves at the political forefront of the struggle for life.
Orchestrated by the Shipibo Conibo Center—SCC[3] at the Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso de la Vega,[4] Maya maya bainkin: avanzando dando vueltas. Arte y futuro Shipibo [Maya Maya Bainkin: Moving Forward in Circles. Shipibo Art and Future] is an interesting exception to this rule. The exhibition has as its focus the diverse explorations of the ancestral design system, also known as kené, of an intergenerational group of outstanding artists belonging to the Shipibo Konibo community of the Peruvian Amazon and its diaspora: Chonon Bensho (Pucallpa, 1992); Sara Flores (Loreto, 1950); Inka Mea (Iparía, 1916-San Francisco de Yarinacocha, 2001); Celia Vásquez Yui (Pucallpa,1960); Olinda Silvano (Ucayali, 1969). In dialogue with the works of these artists, the exhibition brings together the interventions of three “Associations” that, through collective action, seek to resist the violence exercised on the Shipibo Konibo community by an indolent State obsessed with the neoliberal development model: “Shipibo-Konibo-Xetebo Association of Ancestral Medical Onanyabo Shipibo-Konibo-Xetebo”(Asomashk), ” The Shipibo Konibo Indigenous Guard Regional Organization” and the “Association of Shipibo Women Affected by Forced Sterilization”. As a result of the curatorial decision to debate artistic practices and activism, the kené is politically “activated”, becoming an emblem of the environmental struggle and cultural resistance of the Shipibo Konibo people.

Maya maya bainkin takes its name from the local concept of an icaro[5] that describes a way of moving forward through a sinuous movement of twists and turns, evoking the shape of the kené. Characterized by abstract patterns of intricate accuracy, it creates an overall image of vibrational power. Traditionally “making kené“, i.e. painting, embroidering or weaving designs, is a feminine art inherited from mother to daughter, using materials derived from the forest and the chacras. As kené has been increasingly in demand in the Amazonian tourist market in recent years, it has become an important source of income for women designers, who have begun to introduce new materials and iconographies. However, as anthropologist Luisa Elvira Belaunde[6] reminds us, more important than the handmade and visible patterns, are the designs seen in the visions generated by the ingestion of entheogenic plants[7] such as ayahuasca. These visions of designs are accessible to both men and women and constitute an essential aspect of healing rituals.

Maya maya bainkin welcomes us with a textile installation by Sara Flores, which hangs like a finely embroidered mosquito net in the central patio of the Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso, and is then organized—throughout the four exhibition rooms that make up the second floor gallery—around dialogues between the artists and the collectives. The first room brings into conversation the anthropomorphic vessels of the late Inka Mea with a large-scale embroidery by Chonon Bensho, the youngest artist participating in the show.[8] While Inka Mea’s vessels portray men and women who are representatives of an ideal of beauty that disappeared after being censored by the missionaries; Chonon Bensho embroiders in kené a scene from the Ani Xeati, the great traditional festival of the Shipibo people that notably took place in 2017, after more than a decade of silence.

Hanging on the wall of the adjoining room are the hypnotic kené paintings of teacher Sara Flores. Flores draws freehand without the aid of preparatory sketches. Her exceptionally precise designs are made with vegetable dyes on tocuyo, a wild cotton canvas. On the other hand, in the center of the space, an artistic collaboration between The Regional Organization of the Shipibo Konibo Indigenous Guard and the SCC is presented. It is an installation that reproduces the undulating patterns of the kené with the boots used by the community members during their patrols to monitor the territory and protect it from environmental crimes.

In the next space, one can hear looped Una ceremonia para las madres espíritus de los animals [A Ceremony for the Spirit Mothers of Animals], a sound piece that records the icaros of five healers who are part of Asomashk[9]—an association formed in 2017 to confront spiritual extractivism—during an ayahuasca ceremony without human patients, conceived exclusively to extend its healing power to the Amazon forest. The sound piece establishes a precise conversation with the installation by Celia Vásquez Yui and her daughter Diana Ruiz, composed of around 20 zoomorphic ceramic vessels representing endangered species.

Finally, in the last room, the muralist Olinda Silvano has painted in kené the map of Non Nete, the Shipibo Konibo ancestral territory of about 8.1 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest. This mural coexists with a series of photographs resulting from the collaboration between The Association of Shipibo Women Affected by Forced Sterilizations with Shipibo teacher Edith Nunta Yui and Catalan visual artist and filmmaker Èlia Gasull Balada. The images show body paintings with kené patterns on the wombs of indigenous women who were victims of the racist violence of the forced sterilization program, implemented under the guise of a health campaign, by the government of Alberto Fujimori between 1995 and 2000.

Maya maya bainkin is the first time that the SCC, a non-profit cultural organization based in New York, exhibit in the Peruvian capital the collaborative work with artists of the Shipibo Konibo people that it has been doing since 2016. Collaboration that has had manifestations as diverse as the acclaimed film Icaros: A Vision, performances in Mexico City, exhibitions in powerful galleries in the global north such as Salon 94, Clearing, and White Cube, and film festivals as part of the Ani Xeati in Ucayali. The exhibition aids the effort for critical reevaluation of the aesthetic and epistemic hierarchies inherited from Eurocentric modernity that today animates many of the projects of the national and international art scene. However, what distinguishes the exhibition from other curatorial projects with similar claims is its commitment to generate dialogues between the artists’ practices and the activisms of the Shipibo Konibo Associations, managing to establish a fairly organic model of how to bring together art, healing, ecology and politics. Fields that, as the curatorial text by SCC co-founders Matteo Norzi and Abou Farman points out, “follow the same path in the Shipibo Konibo life experience”.


As I write this review—only between October and November—three exhibitions that bring together artists from different Amazonian native peoples opened in Lima Nuio: volver a los orígenes [Nuio: Back to the origins] curated by Uitoto artist Rember Yahuarcani at the Martin Yepez gallery, Los ríos pueden existir sin aguas, pero no sin orillas [ can exist without water, but not without shores] curated by Giuliana Vidarte and Christian Bendayan at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Lima and, finally and also at the MAC Lima, Madres plantas y mujeres luchadoras [Mothers plants and women fighters], organized by a curatorial team composed of Miguel A. López, Gala Berger and Shipibo artist Olinda Silvano. In addition, on October 20, Congress passed a law recognizing Cantagallo—a Shipibo urban settlement in Lima—as an intangible cultural heritage of the Nation. There is no doubt that we are at an important moment for the claims of the Shipibo Konibo people, who for much of the republican history have not been considered a full interlocutor of social life. Although these “acknowledgements” are a notoriously positive and hopeful scenario, some questions remain unanswered. For example, what do the indigenous communities get in exchange for these inscriptions in the world of culture? Or how to ensure that museums and other institutions sustain—beyond their temporary exhibitions—the commitment to give voice and space to indigenous artistic practices? Although there are no clear or simple answers to these questions, it is vital to recognize the efforts of Amazonian artists who, through their work, struggle to inscribe indigenous counter-histories that problematize and enrich the Eurocentric and colonial historical art canon, in order to claim their own place in a history that clearly belongs to them.


  1. More info here:

  2. The countries that “share” the Amazon are: Brazil (64.4 %); Peru (9.7%); Bolivia and Suriname (7% each); Colombia (6.6%); Venezuela (5.9%); Guyana (2.1%); Ecuador (1.6%); French Guiana (0.8%).

  3. The Shipibo is a non-profit cultural organization based in New York that is situated in the context of contemporary art and knowledge production, and promotes and perpetuates the creative ways of life of the Shipibo-Konibo people of the Peruvian Amazon. See more at:

  4. The Centro Cultural Inca Garcilaso belongs to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and seeks to contribute in a professional manner to implement the Cultural Policy Plan of Peru Abroad. It is a space of convocation and confluence, open to the cultural diversity of the country. Under the general curatorship of Gredna Landolt, it has a long history of hosting projects by indigenous artists. See more at:

  5. Icaro, is the common name used to name the sacred chants used in Peruvian Amazonian traditional medicine. They are chants used by healers, especially the Shipibo, in healing rituals. They have three dimensions: energetic, sonorous and semantic. They were declared “Cultural Heritage of the Nation” in 2016.

  6. Luisa Elvira Belaunde (2009). Learn more at:

  7. The term entheogens was introduced to describe the properties of some medicinal plants such as ayahuasca and to avoid the connotations associated with both the word hallucinogen (considered inaccurate and pejorative) and the term psychedelic (too closely linked to the counterculture of the 1960s).

  8. Chonon Bensho was recently the winner of the MUCEN National Painting Contest, being the first indigenous woman to be recognized with this award, considered one of the most important in the country.

  9. Shipibo-Konibo-Xetebo Ancestral Medical Onanyabo Association. The five healers were: Elisa Vargas Fernández, Walter Ramiro López López, Rogelia Valera Gonsález, Claudio Sinuiri Lomas and Francisco Vargas Fernández.


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