Common in Amerindian aesthetics are hybrid figures immersed and entangled in intricate backgrounds. One can appreciate these complex compositions in the arts of Panama, Peru, Argentina, British Columbia, the Artic, and pre-Columbian North America.
To outside observers, these figurations may result confusing, exceedingly rich in visual information, and disorienting. They do not seem to have a top and a bottom, figures merge with one another, or incorporate parts of different bodies/entities creating a sense of interdependence between all the components that render an immediate decipherment almost impossible.
The overall effect can be compared to the European Baroque with its characteristic horror vacui, fear of empty spaces, that bedazzles the viewer. In a similar vein, but by no means similar in intent and purpose, Amerindian elaborate compositions stun the viewer into a state of hypnosis. One is drawn to these pictures to disassemble the constitutive parts in order to make sense of the iconography.
Yet these images request something different. They want to draw you into a multiplanar dimension that some have called a ‘multiverse’. This a universe in which all registers of cognitions happen concurrently. The visual apparatus devised for this imagery has not been created to describe but to evoke the simultaneous perception of multiple planes of existence in which all things are co-dependent, and inform each other in myriad refractions.
Squinting the eyes, one can perceive a figure emerging from the indistinct entangled mass only to withdraw into the distance in favour of new details that move in and out of focus leaving us perplex and unsettled. This is image’s purpose: to invite viewers to relinquish the certainties their reality depends on and embrace the fluctuating dynamism of a multiverse in motion, acting, pulsating, vibrating. These images tell us that reality is not what we see, but what is hidden in the folds of vision, those hard-to-reach recesses of consciousness where one essence can be many, and one being can see from different perspectives if one only knows how to look.
Amerindian arts are philosophies of cognition. Their aesthetics are visual stratagems that render the unintelligible real, so that human experiences can be appreciated both through the eyes and through the mind. It is a sophisticated art indeed, one that because of its hermeticism encourages unfamiliar viewers to engage with different levels of cognition, and in so doing triggers reflections on the nature of reality and perception.