Art and environment: Indigenous people, the avant-gardists of ecological art


« Looking at something and seeing it are two very different acts. You only really see something if you see it’s beauty> wrote Oscar Wilde in « The Decline of the Lie ». For the novelist and aesthete of the 19th century, art was creative, even more than Nature, since it revealed what exists. 


If the artist can evoke London fogs, created according to Wilde by avant-garde impressionists who were able to capture their beauty, Wilde would undoubtedly pay tribute to the key role of indigenous artists in our vision of Nature.


However, these exceptional indigenous artists from Central America conceive Nature as the source of all things. This awareness of the world is the origin of a spiritual culture in an unparalleled artistic enterprise where the harmony of man in his environment, is essential. 


Created in the heart of the forest of Darien, we invite you to discover the sacred masks of the Wounaan and Embera tribes. Used in shamanic rites, these ecological works of art are direct evidence of an exceptional biodiversity where the spirits of nature rub shoulders with those of their ancestors.


Among the Indigenous, ecological art does not exist

Art and the environment are inseparable to these indigenous artists



According to the art historian Ernst Gombrich, there is no concept of progress in art, because the goal of the artist varies according to different civilizations. The sacred masks of our collection fulfill a very specific ritual function for the indigenous communities of Panama and Colombia : to enter into communication with the spirits. According to the beliefs of animists, these spirits could just as easily be the spirits of animals, of plants, stones or the dead.  


The artisans who make these works, therefore, play a major role in the life of the tribe ; they are the ones who weave the link between the visible and invisible world from which the nemboro gradually emerges. For if the shaman is the mediator of this story, it is up to the artist to provide the ritual instrument of the mask necessary for the ceremony.


No need for a prototype or a drawing. < The artist is his best critic. If he has a dialogue with his work, he is an artist : if he has a dialogue with the public, then he is probably an imposter> adds Ernst Gombrich. The mask becomes a manifestation of the sensibilities of the artist, born from an inner exchange, between his dreams, his beliefs, and a world filled with souls. 


The ecological work of art is a nonsense for indigenous people who live in harmony with nature from their earliest days 


The masks are burnt after every ceremony. Ethic & Tropic have converted these masks into works of art designed to last and allowing us to experience them. What would Mr Wilde, author of Dorian Gray, have seen, by gazing at them ? Their beauty? Their evocative colours of Earth ? Their meticulous craftsmanship ? Or more importantly, what we really feel just by looking at them. The richness of the landscape, the cradle of a culture endangered by modern society.


The mask in our eyes therefore is just an ecological work of art, but indigenous people consider it a sign of respect that man owes to his natural world. If they defend the concept of sustainability, it is only to protect their lands and  warn our consumerist society about our impact on their environment. 


Environmental art, the reflection of an ecological conscience


Yes, Nature is inseparable from art, whether to support or act as a model. It can be beautiful, regular and enlightened for the classicists ; grandiose and wild for the romantics ; intimate and sensitive for the impressionists. But by the end of the twentieth century and after the development of capitalism, a new movement formed where nature and art are no longer the reflection of the human condition, but rather it’s central subject. 


While they have been exploited, transformed, and threatened, they have also inspired new movements such as Land Art, Reclamation Art or Recycled Art. Environmental art has become one of the main focuses of political issues in the XXIst century. In this context, indigenous art, long stigmatized by a eurocentric conception of art, seems today more than ever to echo the concerns of climate change. 


Indigenous art, the precursor to environmental art, is now making a name for itself on the international scene


Deforestation, extensive farming, illegal trade and non sustainable wildlife trade have triggered 60% to 70% of new diseases which have affected the indigenous people since 1990. The most recent having caused a pandemic from which we have yet to recover. Paradoxically, there are populations in the tropical rainforests of central America who are amongst the most threatened by hyperglobalization.


The indigenous people, the fervent defenders of environmental causes, are considered obstacles to the speculative management of natural resources. However, the Brazilian Indians, although regular victims of attacks by president Jair Bolsonaro and of violent persecutions, firmly maintain their role and unite as one voice with tribes from other lands.


affirmed Kant for whom only experience builds knowledge. It is indisputable that a person such as Bolsonaro, with coronavirus and climate change, has brought a whole new dimension to the question of the environmental emergency. And so, the shamanic mask is no longer an ethnic work of art, but rather a look at the world and at ourselves.


The ecological work of art, supports indigenous communities


Brought back from Darien and displayed on contemporary interior walls, the sacred masks pay hommage to these peoples who are struggling to preserve their way of life. Their creation, heritage, and ancestral shamanic beliefs, have been transmitted through their oral tradition and are based on a profound understanding of local resources.


Primitive art is essentially an ecological art


Woven from palm leaves that have been gathered, dried and dyed by hand with natural materials, the nemboros are made using needles, by the women of the Wounaan and Embera tribes. The making of these masks is the fruit of a unique knowledge applied with total respect for the environment.  


No over-exploitation of raw materials, no deforestation, no chemical dyes, no over consumption of water. In addition, subsidizing each artist directly (without intermediaries), allows part of the funds to be used to plant trees. 


The profits generated by the activities of these exceptional artisans allow the community to continue their traditions, assuring the education of their children, and and ensuring support of their main role in the preservation of the environment.



If you would like to know more about our collections, please visit our catalogue or write to us. We would be delighted to assist you in your search.


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