Constantino Manuel Torres

Browsing Jill and Steven’s spectacular website Microcosms: A Homage to Sacred Plants of the Americas, we are constantly reminded of two artists: the first is the Mazatec shaman-poet María Sabina (1894-1985), who chants: “I am the woman who looks into the insides of things.” Steven and Jill, through the resources provided by the confocal microscopy technique, have gifted us with the opportunity to enter the insides of plants. Additionally, the illustrations of the German naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) attempt to penetrate, by extremely close observation of the plants and their pollinators, into the interior world of plants. Works of art thrive in the capacity to evoke and connect with the tradition of artistic endeavors. It is precisely this aspect of the Microcosms website, that of transcending the limitations of the medium, that extends its reach beyond botany to art history with its relation to abstraction, anthropology, and scientific illustration. Microcosms is a generous gift to everyone interested in the magic of the plant world.

As curator of the exhibition Shamanism: Visions Outside of Time at the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, I decided to include confocal images of Anadenanthera colubrina and Trichocereus pachanoi from Microcosms because these images provoke thoughts of travels. Journeys are most important to shamanism. It is the capacity that distinguishes shamans from healers and mystics. Our museographer became aware of the confocal images and immediately decided to use these two species, since they were of importance in the structure of the show. Most significantly, the overall palette of lighting of our exhibit coincided with that of the confocal images. Lastly, these images incite contemplation of ecstatic experiences.

Constantino Manuel Torres has conducted research on ancient cultures of the South Central Andes since 1982. His work has concentrated on the San Pedro de Atacama oasis, where hundreds of well-preserved archaeological burial sites facilitate a comprehensive understanding of this desert people. Torres is also involved in the study of the art of Tiwanaku, the most important pre-Inca Central Andean civilization. On two occasions, he has been an invited presenter to the Dumbarton Oaks Round Table, in Washington, DC. Torres organized several symposia on the art and archaeology of the Andes for the International Congress of Americanists and for the Society for American Archaeology. He has been the recipient of four Fulbright awards.

His books include Anadenanthera: Visionary Plant of Ancient South America (2006), a wide-ranging and detailed study of this important visionary plant. Dr. Torres is Professor Emeritus of art history at Florida International University, Miami. He curated the exhibition Shamanism: Visions Outside of Time at the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. The exhibition catalog can be seen here.

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