Chilean-born artist Mariela de la Paz’s paintings offer a transcendent glimpse into the ritual creativity she harnesses to honor and heal her matriarchal lineage to the Indigenous people of Chile, the Mapuche. Speaking from her home in California, de la Paz explains, “It was very fascinating for me to learn that I had this ancestry from my Grandmother. But, my Grandmother ran away from her people, [because] she didn’t want anyone to know that she was Indigenous.” Evoking a deeper sense of connection than can be studied in the pages of history books, she speaks to her artistic process of divine conveyance as being “such a familiar place, because it’s a place of timelessness. The painting process is a very rich process; it’s a therapeutic process. There is a magic process that happens, and I do it in a ritual way. Creating something that never existed before that can really move people is a shamanic experience.”
Her Women of the Earth series contains a multitude of themes, expressing the cosmic union between the natural world and the archetypes of the divine feminine and divine masculine. These archetypes, de la Paz says, “are very universal, and non-specific to gender.” She feels that the current collective response to the limitations of the gender binary is part of a larger “evolutionary plan.” “I think we’re naturally choosing to be in ways that can be more authentic to ourselves, and also free from expectations of what society has trained us to be,” she explains.
“It is a beautiful thing that is happening…we are evolving to something more than our gender.”
She acknowledges a personal desire to heal “as a woman coming from a lineage of abuse,” explaining that, “portraying the feminine as sacred, and giving the feminine—always—a place of sanctity, respect, and honor” in her work is important, particularly with one of her most famous paintings, “The Return of The Divine Feminine.” This painting features a woman in deep communion and repose with the plant sacrament, ayahuasca, as it has allowed other women-identifying people a powerful opportunity to witness, and relate to, what she explains as “having a right to that state of surrender.”
De la Paz says she felt compelled, too, to include an image that expressed the concept of the divine masculine within the Women of the Earth series. Her painting, “El Chaski Pehuenche—The Sacred Divine Male,” explores themes of strength and personal control through a balancing of warrior energy and inner peace, represented by a condor at the heart’s center for freedom of expression, and a roaring puma, offering a vibrant inner fire and potency at the foundation. She feels that the concepts of divine feminine and masculine contain a multitude of energetic expressions that can be relatable to anyone, having more to do with, as she says, “the intuitive and the rational; the right and left brain,” and all that glimmers in between.
Her Mapuche ancestors, similar to many Indigenous cultures, she says, embodied a “much deeper understanding of the unity of all that is. They didn’t have a word for ‘freedom’ when the white man arrived, because they never knew the opposite. They had no hierarchy prior to the conquest. There was one person that had a special status, and that was the curandera, from a matriarchal lineage.”
De la Paz’s myriad of artistic influences weave a vibrant tapestry of over four decades of training, education, and practice in traditional and modern fine arts and contemporary female shamanism with scholar Vicki Noble, as well as a sacred relationship with plant and fungi medicine that came, surprisingly, much later in her life than one might assume upon viewing her work. Remarkably, one of her paintings in Women of the Earth, “Venus of the Forest” or “Weñulfe” features a woman hanging onto roots that look like the ayahuasca vine, with patterns on her skin, a kambo frog on her foot, and even the symbol of the Brazilian ayahuasca church, the Santo Daime, a hummingbird, floating above her face. It’s a self-portrait de la Paz did when she turned 40, before she ever tried a psychedelic.
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She was first introduced to plant medicines through mushrooms, crediting them with guiding her to continue transcending the liminal boundaries of space and time in her art. This initial experience spun a trail of cosmic dust that led her to what she refers to as the sacrament of ayahuasca, saying, “for me, it was always about a religious act of connection to a divine source that will clarify all kinds of things about myself, my life, and my relations. Bonding with the spirit world was particularly attractive to me, to be able to have dialogues with non-physical entities and to get messages from the plant…she [ayahuasca] can relate to humans, and show us things that we would never be able to see with our normal state of perception.”
De la Paz’s visionary art offers the world an intimate portrait of her prolific journey. From her escape as a teenager from the assault on expression that came with violent political unrest in Chile to a profound and winding trail of reconnection to her Indigenous roots, she continues to exemplify the power of art as a medium for individual and collective healing and transformation.
This article was originally published in DoubleBlind Issue 8.
P.S. If you feel called, we invite you to support Mariela, who is currently on the road to recovery from cancer. You can support her by donating to her GoFundMe or by purchasing her art here. Find her on Instagram.