Sacred Art of Wounaan Baskets

Sacred Art
Sacred Art: Wounaan Baskets

The rainy season will soon be coming to an end here in Costa Rica, and with it the tourists will return to enjoy this beautiful country in the sunshine. But these days in the capital are often quiet and on a slow rainy day in San Jose, I often have the unique pleasure and luxury of time available for contemplating the wonderful sacred art that surrounds me in Namu. I reflect on how truly fortunate I am to be enveloped by the beauty of native and folk art, how it soothes me and how amazing it is that this has come to be my work.

Not wishing to sound pretentious, I have to say that there are times when I feel the energy of the pieces in the gallery in a more insightful way that makes me feel closer to the visceral inspiration within and not just the obvious physical beauty of the piece, making it feel like I am tapping into the vitality and fire transmitted by the artist into his or her art. When that happens to me, I know I am experiencing the art in a more mindful way. Recently, while gazing at the glorious art of the Wounaan basket weaving, I was struck by the evolution of everyday necessities where they evolve from the utilitarian to the poetic. Think about the lovely shapes of wine and liqueur bottles, or the impulse to change a functional window into a piece of stained glass art, which brings me to the humble basket, so highly practical for the task of carrying around the stuff of daily life.

From Practical to Sacred Art

basket weaving
Young Wounaan Woman Applies Skill

And thus sacred art is born when a merely useful basket becomes a ‘canvas’ for making a cultural declaration, and, like so many pieces in our Pre-Columbian pottery collection, what was once pedestrian becomes transformed into something awe-inspiring – indeed sacred. The first signs of elevating a utilitarian basket into a work of art only happened less than 40 years ago with the early motifs being geometric elements inspired by the Wounaan tribe’s body paintings and other shamanic-based forms. The desire to continue to explore the basket as a ‘canvas’ grew to expressing the flora and fauna of their environment, not as a botanist or a biologist would, but as people with an animistic spirituality would. The same is true of our Brunka masks, where practically every animal has its totemic meaning and its environment is an extension of their world.

There is hardly a culture in the Americas where the feline family exists that doesn’t hold that animal in the highest spiritual esteem and one of our most popular basket designs is the jaguar paw print. The disembodied paw print is a dazzling motif which is executed in black and white: either a black paw print on a white field or vice versa. The play of the stylized paw print and the negative space between them holds magic resembling an optical illusion which strongly appeals to one’s senses as a geometric conundrum.

Sacred Art of Jaguar
Sacred Art: Jaguar Paw Print

I propose, therefore, that these baskets will never be taken for granted by their fortunate owner. There are simply too many levels to be attracted by, and I urge you to see for yourself some of the beautiful baskets, these sacred art pieces if you will, that grace the page. Click here to visit our Wounaan Baskets Collection.


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