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︎Article, Painting, Icaros, Amazon, Psychedelic  
︎ Ventral Is Golden

"Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.”
- Alfred North Whitehead

The Icaros is an unfamiliar word in the lexicon of western language. In Peruvian cultures it is the name for the song, melody or glossolalic chant that is sung by the Ayahuasquero (shaman) to accompany the ancient healing sessions of the Ayahuasca plant.

Every Ayahuasquero has his own icaros, based on his own experience of the plant, derived from induced visions or dreams that are sourced directly from nature itself. The chant consists of very simple words that allude to plants and animals of the environment, in an attempt to evoke their spirit.
The act of chanting can ‘charge’ an object and influence a desired outcome. For example, the blowing of tobacco smoke by the shaman, over an area of the body with a sickness, whilst singing the icaros, can cure the ailment.

The Shipibo-Conibo people (previously two separate tribes; Shipibo, ‘Apemen’ and Conibo, ‘Fishmen’) of Peru are an example of a relatively modernised tribe, who still utilise this practice in their social dynamics.

Being heavily influenced by the visions that manifest through their ancient shamanic connections with the natural environment, the Shipibo-Conibo, otherwise collectively known as ‘Weavers of Music’, are able to generate recursive patterns, or pathways, in their tapestries and pottery, that create a concrescence of the micro and macrocosm. The patterns are considered by some anthropologists as a language, a coded symbology of medicinal rites or a means of visually navigating the river structures of the Amazon jungle.

“This shamanic method...crystallises the idea that multidisciplinary relationships between the sciences, religions, politics, poetry and nature, could reveal perspectives that would have otherwise laid dormant.”

The tribal aesthetic, almost exclusively produced by the tribe’s women, characterises their sense of interconnectedness. This is most notable by means of a fluid collaboration between each woman, as they believe that the fractal compositions are not created, but revealed to them by way of the Ayahuasca plant and the Icaros. In this sense the creative vision is shared across the entire community, whereby the woman who started the artwork does not have to be the one to finish it, yet the piece will still retain its cohesive structure.

This shamanic method of creating art within the Shipibo-Conibo tribe, crystallises the idea that multidisciplinary relationships between the sciences, religions, politics, poetry and nature, could reveal perspectives that would have otherwise laid dormant. A kind of perspective seen through the ears, or a music heard through the eyes.
This is enough to perturb the mental factions to produce an ‘outer body’ experience, and aids the shaman in being removed enough from the fixed perspective of his own work to see the multifaceted structures of consciousness at play.
As in the artistic process, to remove yourself from a preconceived structure of the outcome’, allows for discovery of new mental terrains.

In Western cultures, the Icaros is found in the dusty attic of the mind, in a cardboard box labelled ‘alternative medicine’. It is subordinate to our more superior mathematical and material sciences. In art, this is termed ‘naive art’, ‘outsider art’ or ‘primitive art’. But I would go as far as saying that assuming the cultural perspective that we inherit as being the most ‘advanced’, is at best limiting to our intelligence and at worst subscribing to an authority that we have done nothing to merit.

In some cultures, art is seen in its own right as a medicine, with images having a healing quality. By this token, the opposite must also be true. That certain images have a detrimental effect. It is worth considering what kind of visual culture we build around us.

It is for this reason that I see the work of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe (and other notable artists of the same areas such as Pablo Amaringo) not as primitive, but as visionary, and truly engaging.

Further Reading ︎
Ayahuasca Visions (Book) - Pablo Amaringo & Dr. Luis Luna
Ayahuasca Visions (Article) - Dennis McKenna on Reality Sandwich
The ‘icaro’ or Shamanic Song - Dr Jacques Mabit

Notable researcher of the Ayahuasca tea ceremonies, Dr Luis Luna, documented one of the ceremonies in the Peruvian Andes in his tape ‘The Songs the Plants Taught Us’, which gives us insight into the floating, transcendental rhythms and evocative melodies associated with the spirit world of the shaman.


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