11/06/04: 12-12:30 PM - Shipibo Designs: Hybridism and Commodification in the Peruvian Amazon

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 11/07/2004 - 06:24.

11/06/04: 12-12:30 PM
Almeida-Tracy, Case Western Reserve University
Designs: Hybridism and Commodification in the
Peruvian Amazon


Never having
heard of the Shipibo people of Peru, this talk walked me down new artistic territory, and it seems the presenter is more familiar with this remote region
than just about anyone in North America. In brief, the Shipibo have a long
legacy of artistic creation within a relatively isolated area of the Amazon
region - their art is complex and exciting in all ways. The designs are dynamic
and spiritual - sent to the men of the village during psychedelic trips and
transferred to pottery and fabric by the women, who are the traditional
creators of their art. The pottery in particular is beautifully crafted and
creative in structure, design and symbolism.

The connection between this art and the
subject of the symposium, "Aesthetics and Consumer Culture" is found
in modern social influences on the Shipibo. First,
they have absorbed a broader set of colors, materials and influences in
creating their art. More important, the outside world has found them and their
art and commoditized that, just as Peru is attempting to assimilate these
native people, causing tragic consequences.

With commoditization comes revenues - and
the art of these people can attract very high prices in the global
market-place. At this time, most of the profits are realized by
"middlemen" of many layers. One subject discussed during the lecture
is the obvious realization the Shipibo should use
the Internet to sell their work directly to the art buying public - they could
even use eBay to dramatically improve their revenues and quality of life -
sounds like a great project for some culturally attuned tech-savvy
philanthropists... know of any in NEO? Send them to the Amazon!

With revenues and recognition comes growing
appreciation for the work of the women of the society - as their art is the
highest value commodity of their culture it is exclusively the women there who
make good money - they are the upper class... in how many places on Earth is
that the case?

A tragic condition undermining what could be
a very good opportunity for an important community - the opportunity to expand
growing wealth using simple technology - is the fact the government of Peru is assimilating
this native culture, forcing the children to travel to remote schools where
they lose their identity, becoming much less "valuable" in many
important ways. As the children are taken from their families and native roots,
they are removed from the creative process, so young girls do not learn the
complex art and so the art will die with the current generation.

How pathetic. It is safe to say these
children will not find great opportunity though their non-native cultural
brainwashing, and they will loose the opportunity to participate in a native
art form that increasingly has great value, and will become more valuable as
the Shipibo gain greater command of globalization
and technology, which puts them in control of their destiny. If anyone reading
this has the interest, consider helping to save these people - share in the
wealth if you like, by helping perfect their eCommerce, and gain a greater
reward by protecting a great culture from annihilation, which today is their

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