Portraits of

the Multiverse

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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 (this image).

Ronin, the serpent spirit of the universe:
This is the serpent, Ronin - known as a dueña, a description which makes sense as the word dueño means “owner” in Spanish and “spirit” to the Shipibo. Ronin is the most important duéna, or spirit/owner, in this universe (opening image).

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.

Came Renaco healing tree: Healing energy emanates from the tree.

Ayahuasca, master plant: Ayahuasca is considered a master plant; it works in tandem with the spirits of other plants, teaching and showing spirits to the Shipibo. Here, Ayahuasca is taken by both patient
and healer in order to converse with the Came Renaco medicine / Came Renaco bark for preparing medicine: The bark of the Came Renaco tree is cut and boiled to prepare for a medicine. When it is taken as medicine, the spirit of this tree is invoked. The tree’s spirit communicates with your spirit - as well as, when taking Ayahuasca, the spirit of the healer guiding you.

The Spirit of the Jungle: Here, you can see
the healing vapours of the Shanay Timpishka,
or Boiling River. Sadith has embroidered
the spirits of the river, and a snake is also visible.

The Shanay-Timpishka River: In the river, Sadith also sees serpents.

Mermaid: I chose to close the series with this image because it holds a story that is personal to me: in water, I have found freedom and relief from pain. When I showed this image to Sadith, she embroidered the tail of a mermaid. While embroidering, Sadith sings a song that tells of a mermaid who has drifted to shore to see the land. The sun becomes very hot and she cannot survive on land any longer, but some people see her and help her back into the water. And here, in this image, we see the mermaid swimming freely in her home of the water.

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Words by

Madeleine Bazil

Madeleine Bazil is a multidisciplinary artist and writer interested in memory, intimacy, and the ways we navigate worlds - real and imagined. She c… Learn more

Artworks by

Ana Elisa Sotelo

Ana Elisa Sotelo is a visual storyteller and artist from Peru. Her work focuses on gender, culture and the relationship of humans with the natural … Learn more

and

Sadith Silvano

Sadith Silvano is an artist, designer and activist from the Shipibo community of Cantagallo, in Lima, Peru. She is a cultural promoter and an activ… Learn more

This article is part of Issue #14

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