I Taught You So That You Could Teach OthersFriday, January 7, 2022
This text is part of Alternative Routes, a project that foregrounds the work of eight young Afro-Latin American and Indigenous artists and highlights the historicity of racial and ethnic relations within Latin America’s art worlds. This project was organized and edited by Bruno Pinheiro, Ph.D. candidate in History at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), and Horacio Ramos, Ph.D. candidate in Art History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.
This text is an edited transcription of an interview conducted in Spanish with Lily Sandoval Panduro - Sanken Yaká.
Este texto está disponível em português.
My mother, Dora Panduro Silvano - Chonon Besho (San Rafael, 1962 – Yarinacocha, 2016), made this piece thinking of our Shipibo-Konibo culture (fig. 1).  We utilize vessels like the one the woman on this ceramic piece has on her head: this is a quénpo. The piece is made with native materials. It’s made of apacharama and clay.  Here, there is no paint from the hardware store, from shops, nothing like that. For me, it’s important for people who don’t know our culture, who just see it when it’s already done, to understand that the process of making the work is very hard. First, we have to find and gather the apacharama in the middle of the forest, where there are a lot of plants and trees. That’s very hard. To create the lines and the designs, we use a tiny paintbrush made out of one’s own hair. That’s what we paint with. Even the sheen of the piece is natural: it comes from the sap of a lacre tree. We apply the sap when the ceramic is still hot, just out of the kiln. That’s why even though the piece was made in 1990 it’s still intact. It hasn’t deteriorated a bit. So everything we see in this piece, all of the materials, are native and natural.
The design is done with a pattern that is called kené in my language.  Kené is very important in our culture and in our pieces because it’s something that we have practiced since the very beginning, since the creation of our culture.  The design that we use in the ceramics comes from our ancestral lineage, and we continue to use that custom, that gift that we have. The Shipiba women are the ones with the gift for making ceramics.  We women connect with our minds in order to transfer that design into a piece, to make its design. To do this, we don’t need any textbook. We create the designs ourselves, out of our own minds. When women are born, our mothers or grandmothers treat us with plants so that we will learn design without looking at any books, without copying anyone.  Daughters are treated with a plant called piri piri, which makes them grow up with that mindset, with the gift for being able to portray our culture.  That’s why some of us have the gift for making ceramics, for making the kené design, and for many other things. Also, when I was born, my mother planted my placenta in the ground. That is why I have a connection to the clay and the apacharama, which allows me to have cosmic and creative visions with ceramics.
Our custom is for the daughter to always be with the mother, to learn the things that her mother does. This is how my mom taught my aunt, Adela Silvano Panduro, and me to make ceramics: we were her students. And since we liked making pots, we learned. Because if you don’t like it, you won’t be interested. I was a child, and I made a piece wanting to make it just like my mom because I saw the process as something so beautiful, so exciting to do. But that piece broke because I didn’t make it well: I didn’t set it or seal it well, and when it came time to fire it, it broke. For me it was really sad, because it was my first piece and I had decorated it nicely, with a lot of love. But my mom said to me, “You did it, but you didn’t do it well. Next time, you’re going to do it much better.” She encouraged me, saying, “You have to keep trying.”
Vessels like the quénpo were used for drinking beverages, to offer to those who came to visit. My grandmother, Otilia Silvano, made ceramics strictly for use, for eating or cooking manioc and her meals. I remember that when I was seven years old [in 1983], I saw my grandmother making clay jars with large “bellies.”  The vessels were for beverages, for storing and soaking the huarapo (chicha made from bananas). When she found out there was someone coming to visit from another town, from another community, my grandmother would get prepared: she would make her beverages, the masato (the typical beverage of the Shipibo-Konibo culture).  And that was what the large jars were for. They were also used for community celebrations, like a cutting of hair or a baptism.  The largest jars were for when we had a lot of guests; that’s why they made them with “big bellies,” so that more drinks would fit inside.
My mom’s piece is different from the ones my grandmother made because it has arms and breasts. It even has a face like our own: it has lips, a nose, a mouth, eyes. This piece has this form because we are from another generation, another era. My mother also used to make large jars, like my grandmother’s. Back then my mom used to sell just in Pucallpa, she hadn’t made it to Lima because there were buyers that would come to Pucallpa to buy, for example, from other countries. But later she also decided to seek out her market in Lima. I was still a child, I was nine years old [in 1985]. Then my mom said, “Maybe I should make [the jars] smaller, to take them to Lima.” From then on, my mom made jars of various sizes, in order to be able to take them to Lima without them breaking during the trip. After three trips to Lima, more or less, my mom met Ms. Mercedes Aréstegui Cárdenas.  My mom worked with her for more than twenty years.
By the time I was 19 years old, more or less [in 1995], my mom had a market set up in Lima. When I went to Lima for the first time, a woman [other than Mercedes Aréstegui] had asked my mom for some pieces. I have always liked making “dolls,” as we called them. So I made like 20 dolls. But when we brought them to the store owner, she said, “What’s this? It’s a naked woman!” She reduced the price of the works, and for me that was really sad. She didn’t value our culture, or the pieces that we make with so much love, with so much sacrifice. I felt very bad. When that woman rejected the dolls, I no longer wanted to make them. I lost motivation. I stopped making dolls. But my mom encouraged me to get back to making them and told me that Ms. Mercedes Aréstegui wanted some of my works. My mom was everything to me. She gave me courage, she lifted my spirits, she gave me her teachings. Because of her, I went back to making dolls. I did it with more strength, with more desire.
My dolls used to be very small, and not seated. Now that I’m older, I like to make them like older women. I’ve done a lot of pieces: seated, holding jars, fish, animals or babies. I made my work Mujer invisible [Invisible Woman] (fig. 2) thinking of how to show the way we Shipibo-Konibo women sit in our community. With our legs crossed: that’s how we Shipiba women identify. I also made this piece thinking of a dream I had, in which a seated woman with a jar on her head and her hands open appeared to me. When you go looking for apacharama in the middle of the forest, you might come back or you might not. We put ourselves in danger. But in the jungle, there are invisible people who live out in the forest, who look after the trees and the apacharama. So, when you get lost in the middle of the forest, they open up a path for you and you get home safe and sound. That’s why I called this piece “mujer invisible.” In my dream, the woman said to me, “Make this work in ceramic, put it into the clay.” That’s why I made it like that, as a woman seated with her hands open, like someone waiting for somebody to come visit, or like someone getting ready to welcome somebody.
When my mother died in 2016, for a moment I said to myself that I no longer wanted to do ceramics, because it reminded me of her. It made me sad to think that she was no longer here and that she wouldn’t be saying to me, “You’re missing something here, do it this way.” I no longer had a teacher to tell me when something was missing in the piece. Then, about two years after my mom passed away, she came to me in a dream. She said to me in that dream:
“Why don’t you want to do ceramics?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“What’s going on with you? You have to carry on my legacy. I taught you so that you could teach others. The other family members enjoy making ceramics, especially your daughters. Why do you discourage them? You need to keep doing [ceramics], you have to keep going. So that our culture will survive and move forward. So that others will come to know our culture and see it, so that our culture and our art continue to be appreciated.”
That was what she said to me in the dream. Then the next day, I thought it over. I had dreamt of her as if she were still alive, when she would say similar things to me. When something I did came out badly and I became discouraged, she was the one who lifted my spirits. I realized that it what she’d said to me was true, and I went back to producing work. Now I make my jars thinking about her. About her memory, because that’s what she liked to do.
Dora Panduro Silvano - Chonon Besho (San Rafael, Masisea, Ucayali, 1962 – Yarinacocha, Coronel Portillo, Ucayali, 2016) was a renowned Shipibo-Konibo ceramicist. She learned to design clay vessels and textiles using kené designs from her grandmother and her mother. Her works have been acquired by numerous private collectors as well as by institutional collections such as the Central Museum of Peru and Banamex Cultural Development, A.C. in Mexico. In 1991, she was invited to France to exhibit her work. In 2009, the Ministry of Culture of Peru recognized her as a Notable Cultural Contributor.
 This text is an edited transcription of an interview that took place on July 15, 2021 with Lily Sandoval Panduro - Sanken Yaká, who has corrected and approved this text. The footnotes are written by the editor, Horacio Ramos.
 The name Shipibo-Konibo is a term that refers to the three neighboring peoples in the Ucayali River basin in the Peruvian Amazon region: the Konibo, in the upper Ucayali; the Shipibo, in the central Ucayali; and the Shetebo, in the lower Ucayali. The population of the Shipibo-Konibo is estimated at some 39,700. In recent decades, a significant number of Shipibo-Konibo people have migrated to cities like Pucallpa and Lima. See Ministerio de Cultura del Perú, “Shipibo-Konibo,” Native Peoples Database, https://bdpi.cultura.gob.pe/pueblos/shipibo-konibo.
 The ceramicists mix clay with the pulverized ash of the bark of the apacharama tree to prepare the material for their works. For a description of the materials used, see Luisa Elvira Belaunde, Cerámica tradicional shipibo-konibo (Lima: Ministerio de Cultura, 2019): 15–18.
 The word kené refers to the geometric patterns applied to people’s skin or to the outer surface of ceramics, and also sewn into clothing, accessories and blankets. See Angelika Gebhart-Sayer, “The Geometric Designs of the Shipibo-Conibo in Ritual Context,” Journal of Latin American Lore II (2) (1985): 143–175; and Luisa Elvira Belaunde, Kené: arte, ciencia y tradición en diseño (Lima, Instituto Nacional de Cultura, 2009).
 The techniques of sculpting, firing and painting used today by Shipibo-Konibo women bear a great similarity to the techniques developed between 800 and 1600 C.E., in the area surrounding Lake Cumancaya, in the upper Ucayali. See Belaunde, Cerámica tradicional, 9–12.
 While the production of ceramics is an exclusively feminine realm, men are frequently in charge of seeking, exchanging and transporting the colored earth and other materials.
 According to several ceramicists interviewed by Luisa Elvira Belaunde, it is important that the creators not use rulers to measure and copy the lines of their designs, because if the lines are too rigidly ordered, they lose their kinetic effect. See Belaunde, Cerámica tradicional, 31.
 For the Shipibo-Konibo community, ayahuasca and piri piri are the two plants that allow their users to see designs through visions. See Jacques Tournon et al, “Los 'piri piri’, plantas paradojicas de la Amazonia,” Anthropologica 16 (1998): 215–240.
 Pieces such as those described here consist of a base, a belly, a neck, a mouth, and the “lips” that make up the rim where the foods and beverages go in and out.
 Masato is a fermented beverage with a base of manioc, which is a large tuber that is high in starch and low in sugar. See Jacques Tournon, Las plantas, los rao y sus espíritus (Pucallpa: Gobierno Regional del Ucayali, 2006: 47).
 The cutting of the adolescents’ hair is part of the festival of Ani Xeati. See Belaunde, Kené, 43–47.
 Mercedes Aréstegui’s store was located in the Miraflores district of Lima, between Alcanfores and Diez Canseco streets.