As the foundation of our very being, plants provide us with food, medicine, shelter, beauty, and inspiration. Many traditional societies, throughout history and across the world, consider plants as sacred. Certain plants play a special role in helping humans connect with other humans, with their inner worlds, and with the whole of the cosmos. Such plants enhance health, imagination, and creativity. In many cultures, plants are considered sentient beings, with personalities and intentions.
Sacred plants and fungi are found all over the world, but it is in the Americas where their use has been especially important. No understanding of Amerindian cultures is complete without reference to the central role of plants such as tobacco, coca, peyote, San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi), and Anadenanthera sp., the ritual use of which dates back over four thousand years. Ayahuasca (an entheogenic beverage containing a combination of the vine Banisteriopsis caapi and the leaves of Psychotria viridis) and yajé (a similar brew derived from the vines B. caapi and Diplopterys cabrerana), of unknown antiquity, are essential components of the cosmologies, narratives, music, and iconographies of numerous cultures of the upper Amazon.
Much knowledge about sacred Amerindian plants and their healing role in shamanistic societies has been forgotten or suppressed as a result of religious persecution, prejudices about the cognitive and intellectual capacities of traditional societies, or assigning plants to anachronistic categories (for instance, labeling some of them as “drugs”). Fortunately, an interest in sacred plants re-emerged in the second half of the 20th century, increasing the understanding of ancient civilizations and providing new appreciation for indigenous knowledge. Animistic societies, for example, consider humans among other “personae,” such as plants, animals, rocks, or waters, that constitute the natural world. The importance of sacred plants has stimulated pioneering research in art, anthropology, environmental studies, psychology, religion, and other fields. Some of these plants have been found to contain compounds with extraordinary physiological effects and medicinal potential.
Inner Visions highlights sacred plants for their beauty as well as their evocative and visionary powers. Artworks by indigenous, mestizo, and non-indigenous artists draw inspiration from multiple sources of contemporary art, all informed by a connection with Amerindian cultures and plants. Examples of ceramics, textiles and beadwork by unnamed Shipibo and Huichol artists also reference sacred plants and their use in different contexts. Produced from the 1980s to present day, artworks in the exhibition incorporate media including oil, gouache, pencil, photography, sound, and spoken word.
— Luis Eduardo Luna, curator
About the Curator
Luis Eduardo Luna received a Ph.D. from the department of Comparative Religion at Stockholm University in 1989 and was named Doctor of Humane Letters by St. Lawrence University in 2002. He retired from the department of Modern Languages and Communication at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki in 2011. Luna is author of Vegetalismo: Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon (1986), co-author with Pablo Amaringo of Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman (1991), and co-author with Slawek Wojtowicz, Rick Strassman, and Ede Frecska of Inner Paths to Outer Space: Journeys Through Psychedelics and Other Spiritual Technologies (2008). He is also co-editor with Steven F. White of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine (2000), with an expanded second edition published in September of 2016. Luna has curated art exhibitions in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. He is director of Wasiwaska, a research center for the study of psychointegrator plants, visionary art, and consciousness in Florianópolis.
Special thanks to St. Lawrence University’s Arts Collaborative and the department of Art & Art History through its Jeanne Scribner Cashin Fund, for funding support, and to the exhibition lenders Juan Duchesne-Winter, David Hornung, Jean Langdon, and Steven F. White.
NCPR interview, November 3, 2016