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Infinity is reflected in the visions of the shipibo women

Great masters of the art of ceramics and textiles

Directress ”Fatti ad Arte” and Ambassadress of “Wellmade”


Patrizia Maggia

heirs to an artistic tradition combined with a profound spiritual journey

The story of the Shipibo-Konibo women is a fascinating one. They are great masters of the art of ceramics and textiles, heirs to an artistic tradition combined with a profound spiritual journey that has guided them for over 1200 years to reveal the secrets of the cosmos. The Shipibo-Konibo people, now numbering around 40,000, live on the banks of the Ucayali River and its tributaries, in the Amazon forest of Peru. Here, women have always been the custodians of knowledge that combines sacredness and great manual skills cultivated since childhood. The girls start working with ceramics around the age of four, guided by their mother or abuela, their grandmother. Only one girl is chosen within the family, and she is given the inner practice to be able to receive the visions that will later give rise to the wonderful decorative designs of the ceramic and textile products. The teachings are given not only during the day, but also at night; the granddaughter sleeps next to her grandmother, so that through dreams, she can receive knowledge, the shinan. The Shinan of the potters is considered very powerful, because through it they come into contact with the spirit of the earth, fire, wind and water, and learn to “see.” According to Shipibo Konibo cosmology, the patterns on the skin of the primordial anaconda are the outline of the whole universe, and this is the origin of the Kenè, the designs that adorn ceramics and textiles; the clay rolls wind around themselves like the cosmic serpent, weaves and warps produce images of orthogonal and diagonal crossings like the rivers on earth. The pieces resemble the human figure, a base supports the vase, and from this, the belly takes shape, then the neck and the head. The lower part is ochre-coloured and has no designs, while inside, the frames of the upper parts are compositions and designs of various sizes, often symmetrical, in three colors: white, black and red. To paint, they use brushes made from the ceramist's own hair so that the tool used has a direct connection with her thoughts. The final result is never static or perfectly symmetrical, but on the contrary, seems to express dynamism and movement between the lines of different thickness; a visual rhythm given by sequences that are repeated, that deceive visual perception, with a kinetic force that acts on the environment and transforms it; no longer inert objects, but with a beauty that manifests itself as an impression of movement, capable of infusing them with a life of their own and generating deep concentration. Designs that are always unique, that never repeat themselves, but on the contrary, develop continuous variability with new links between the basic elements. Only the great Masters, called Shina Ona Ainbo, women of conscious thought, create them. The fabrics painted or embroidered with Kené symbols reveal the complexity of the patterns’ geometry; the eye tries to follow the lines, but gets lost as if in a labyrinth. The symbol of the cross often appears, which according to indigenous thought, is at the top of the stairs leading to heaven. Fabrics that, rather than covering, seem to open the gaze to infinity. Sacredness and beauty come together in Shipibo art, in a continuous search for harmony and balance with the cosmos, revealing itself through the feminine being.



Fabrics and vessels made by Shipibo-Konibo women