Politics and Poetics of the Rainforest

Indigenous Ontologies in Contemporary Amazonian Arts


To see with the heart is a beautiful expression of the Candoshi Amazonian people. With a sharp poetic sense, this phrase conveys various modes of understanding and establishing relationships with the different forms of life and invisible beings that share the territory with the Indigenous communities of the Amazon River Basin. The heart “sees” in multiple ways that imply a complex synesthesia, mediated by the intellectual and affective ties binding each person to a place.

More important still, there are many human and non-human hearts that “see” distinct entities. The plurality of Amazonian beings’ modes of seeing converges in the artworks of the region’s inhabitants. The age-old knowledge of these communities that comes through especially in their mythologies, shamanism, rituals and the sensorialities of these practices has translated in the past few decades into diverse aesthetics in dialogue with Western art.

Amazonian artworks foster an encounter between epistemes and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, thus opening the possibility of learning across different universes. Through visual narratives, the artists articulate their experiences with communities of plants, animals and other forms of existence from the Amazon, creating a repertoire that revitalizes contemporary local and global art, and questioning, with their ontologies, the logic of neoliberal multiculturalism.

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