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Photography - ISSUE #14

Portraits of the Multiverse

Portraits of the Multiverse is an ongoing visual investigation between Peruvian artists Ana Elisa Sotelo, a producer and photographer, and Sadith Silvano, an artist, designer and activist from the Shipibo-Konibo community of Cantagallo and master of the Shipibo-Konibo kené art form of line and geometric patterns.

Petition to the Came Renaco Tree. You must always “ask” to connect with the spirit of a plant before consuming its medicine for healing. I have taken medicine from this tree for nearly seven years to help treat pain from a spinal fracture, and I made this photograph to represent how I ask the tree for its medicine. Here, Sadith’s embroidery depicts the spirit of the plant entering into this relationship with me.

Creating a dialogue between the two artists’ respective visual languages - photography and embroidery - Portraits of the Multiverse tells a story of healing through medicinal plants, and of learning from the knowledge of the jungle. Ana and Sadith began their collaboration in 2022 - after working together on a documentary, Entyo, which features Sadith - and their work together is grounded in a shared interest in dreams. “Through dreams,” Ana explains, “we can access parallel realms and our subconscious. I use inspiration from dreams for a lot of my work. They help me visualise the ineffable, and help access levels of consciousness and creativity that aren’t always available during waking hours.”

In Sadith, Ana found a collaborator steeped in the cultural knowledge and intangibilities of the Amazon: someone who could access a more holistic understanding of this world. Sadith, through her kené embroidery, “makes the invisible visible.” An understanding of kené, sacred geometric patterns representing the energy and spirit of the Amazon, is instilled in Shipibo women from a young age. This spiritual world is accessed through song and the ingestion of sacred plants that reveal energetic visions. “This energy goes beyond my understanding and culture,” says Ana. “Depicting and representing kené is something that is for the Shipibo to do, which is why I wanted Sadith, a Shipibo artist, to reveal this energy.”

Luisa Elvira Belaunde, an anthropologist specialising in Shipibo-Konibo culture and a friend of Sadith, helped the duo shape their artist’s statement and the form of their investigation, questioning what Ana wanted to add to her photographs. What was it that she felt that she could not see? What spirits lie in the jungle that the camera can’t perceive? And in turn, these are the questions Ana asked Sadith. Throughout the project, a dialogue emerges about the Amazonian multiverse: depicting not only the rainforest’s visual and literal nature but moreover its sounds, emotions and spirit. “I hope this project inspires the audience to question how little we know of the world if we limit our knowledge to only what we see,” says Ana.

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