Art and Ayahuasca


I made my way up the long spiral ramp at the Musee de quai Branly in Paris. It’s a cool, dark museum filled with art and objects from the indigenous cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. I enter the exhibit I have come to see: Shamanic Visions: Ayahuasca Arts in the Peruvian Amazon.

A black and white video played, showing a woman preparing a pot to boil plants that will be reduced to a beverage and consumed for a ritual that has been performed by the indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon for thousands of years. The drink, known as ayahuasca, will induce visions and sounds, offering profound spiritual and therapeutic benefits. “The ayahuasca vine helps you connect with the invisible,” she says, her voice resonating with a sense of ancient wisdom.

The visions of the invisible have been a source of inspiration to artists across cultures. This exhibit highlights both the traditional and contemporary art of the Shipibo-Conibo people of the Peruvian Amazon, as well as the influence of ayahuasca on Western art, particularly during the counter-culture movement of the 1960s.

For many within the Shipibo-Conibo culture, the ayahuasca experience elicits precise shapes and geometric patterns, known as kené. These intricate patterns can be drawn or painted on various surfaces including fabrics, ceramics, wood, and even the human body. As someone who sees the world through patterns, I find this particularly compelling.

Sara Flores, a contemporary Peruvian artist, expands the idea of kené with her geometric textile work. Several of her pieces are featured in the exhibit, their vibrant patterns weaving a narrative of cultural heritage and personal vision:


A geometric pattern made from black and red lines and shapes on a white background..


A geometric pattern made of black lines with read and yellow shapes on a white background.
A geometric pattern made of black lines and yellow and red shapes on a white background.


Another artist I admired was Chonon Bensho, whose embroidery showcases the beauty and complexity of kené: 

Geometric lines and shapes form three women with long black hair standing on an abstract surface with two trees in the background.
All Photos: Swain McCaughrin

The exhibit also delves into the impact of ayahuasca on Western thought and art. William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg detailed their search for ayahuasca in a book called The Yage Letters, published in 1963. This book, consisting of letters written starting in 1953, explores concepts that would later be used in Burroughs' 1959 novel, Naked Lunch. Through their writings, many readers were introduced to the existence and significance of ayahuasca. The exhibit describes Ginsberg and Burroughs as "the pioneers of shamanic tourism," highlighting their role in bringing awareness of this sacred plant medicine to a broader audience.

Connecting with the invisible has given us a wealth of art and thought. The patterns and visions inspired by ayahuasca continue to resonate, transcending cultural boundaries and time periods. The exhibit at the Musée du quai Branly beautifully illustrates the profound impact of this ancient practice on both indigenous and contemporary art, reminding us of the deep, often unseen threads that connect us all.

For more information, read the interview with curator David Dupuis here.



      Jacquet, M 2023, 'A journey into the depths of the human soul at the Museé du        quai Branly', Art Basel, 19 December, accessed June 26 2024,                  

      What is Kené. Kené Amazon. <>.       
      Accessed 26 June 2024

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