INSITE Journal
Olinda Silvano
Art from Cantagallo
October 27, 2021

Olinda: I have lived here in the community of Cantagallo for twenty-one years. We work with the mothers here; this is a cultural house, and everyone has their own space, their showcase where they can put their art. This art is what brought us here, to the capital city Lima, to share, to work, to render visible our identity, the living culture of the Shipibo-Konibo people, the cosmovision of the world of medicinal plants, based on the piri piri plants, on ipo kené, on ayahuasca, the mother of all plants.

During the pandemic we have been working on making masks. That is why we paint, we embroider, we sing—in other words, everything we do is art. And that’s how we met Miguel. He was always buying art, he helped me, he saved my life too. So that is why I am here in front of you all and continuing to work with most of the twenty-nine mothers with whom we are working. We are very content, very happy, and very grateful to you all for giving us this opportunity. We mothers are very happy!

Some still haven’t gotten here, some are traveling to get their bark, their mud to be able to keep painting, to be able to keep doing their work. Well, we are women who have been empowered in the world through art. And we can say this because before we were minimized women, women who did not have capabilities according to men, according to people who think badly of women. But now we have gender equality, equal rights. Before, women could not work anywhere other than the kitchen, washing dishes, cooking, doing art, even though sometimes there was nowhere to sell it. But thanks to art we have been able to get ahead. So, we used to feel “on the bottom,” but now we feel “on top” and strong. Yes, women can save her household; yes, a woman can maintain her children without her husband, because these hands and this head and this body are what make creativity, what make the kené. Kené is our design that represents several designs. And each mother is inspired by her own knowledge, her own beliefs, how her mother has raised her. And we are also encouraging our children, both men and women. Traditionally, men could not make things in kené because their grandmother or grandfather would say that it would “bend” the man, that he would become a woman; then with that (whistles), they would cut down the men, make fun of them, but not anymore. I had to raise my son: “no mister, you have to wash dishes, you have to cook just like your sisters. And you also must do kené, based on your own inspiration.” Of course, he used to make “little games,” but now he does it and he already understands.

We are going to work, we’re going to sing, we’re going to dance; that is, we do everything during work time so that we are not bored, because that is what nourishes our work, so that it turns out well, so that it doesn’t get stained. We have to speak to the fabric, the energy, the spirit that has to be there, an invisible spirit that you won’t see, but that is there. We also always use our natural inks because that is our source, that is the memory of our ancestors who made it with mahogany, with mahogany bark, with yacushapana, with mango, with guava, with avocado seeds, which in other places they call “aguacate.” All of this comes together and makes a very special paint, a natural mud. Like this dress, which is painted with natural dye from mahogany bark. This brown turns into black when you make the virgin mud, the thick mud that comes from the jungle lagoon, that we find in the lagoon two hours from our home, in an hour we find it.

But we also have to go to towns, my town has the bark, the best bark, and another community, Hejito, has the special mud. I have to travel to Hejito to bring it back from there and go to my community Paoyhan for the bark that we have to look for. Then, mud is poured over the work, and it turns black. But we have to use our paint carefully here—there aren’t any erasers or white-out to hide things, we don’t have that. This isn’t acrylic, this is the ecological paint that we make and that doesn’t harm our hands, it doesn’t harm our sense of smell, it is not chemical, it is natural.

We are going to sing a short song that we always sing, sometimes to start the conversation or at the end. We always sing to connect with the energy of our peoples and what we want to do, and to shower ourselves with success and all our strength. So that is always our custom.