Founded in 1988 by the famous shaman come visionary painter, Don Pablo Amaringo, this school of visionary art is truly unique, both in its conception and style.
Don Pablo does not have the appearance of what one might expect of a powerful shaman and visionary artist. His slight figure is almost fragile, yet he emanates a feeling of love and charisma from every fibre of his body. What is most striking about him is his sense of integrity and unpretentiousness.
One relaxed evening at Usko Ayar we talked about his life, his visions and the origins of his unusual school. This is what he told me:
Having been brought up as a Christian, Don Pablo turned into an atheist in his youth, not believing in spiritual things at all. His fate was to change however, when is sister became sick and was dying of hepatitis. Conventional medicine did nothing for her. In their despair, the family called in a shaman - who miraculously managed to cure the girl. This event triggered something in young Don Pablo, and he wanted to know how the woman healer had cured his sister. Determined to learn more he set off to live in the forest. For next 10 years he drank Ayahuasca, the sacred visionary vine of the Amazon, every single night. The spirit of this powerful plant taught him many secrets and eventually he became a famous shaman. People from all over Peru would come to ask him for help. However, after many years of practicing shamanism, he eventually became too distressed by the infighting and power struggles among the shaman community and decided to give it all up. However, he did not give up drinking Ayahuasca, though the plant now became his visionary muse and inspiration for the fantastic paintings through which he communicates the wisdom of this Deva. It also gave him the inspiration for a vision of another kind: The school of Usko Ayar.
Inspired by the way in which Ayahuasca and painting had changed his life, Don Pablo felt that he wanted to share what he had learned. He wanted to give young people, who otherwise might not get a chance in life, an opportunity to develop themselves. When he opened up his private home as a school, Usko Ayar came into being. The school welcomes students of all ages and backgrounds. Tuition is free to all (Peruvians) who want to come and learn. Only when a student sells a painting does part of the money go back to the school to help pay for materials, paints, brushes and to maintain the running costs of the building. As he puts it: 'I support my students and my students support me.'
While painting is the main focus of the school, Don Pablo also teaches ethics and philosophy, as well as English. His aim is to instill a sense of respect for the jungle and all life and to inspire his students to love and take care of nature. Rainforest protection and conservation are very much at the core of his message, which he teaches not only to his students but to all who are touched by his paintings.
The school has been running for ten years now, managing to stay afloat on the money generated by the paintings that have been sold. But Don Pablo still has energy for making more visions come true. His latest project is to build an ethnobotanical garden deep in the jungle, where students will be able to learn about plants and get a chance to commune with nature. The site has already been chosen and work will begin soon.
It is possible that volunteers may be needed in the near future to help with the work of planting the garden, labeling plants etc. If you are interested in this opportunity, or would like to make a donation to support the school or the ethnobotanical garden project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read more about the school and about Don Pablo Amaringo's work at:
Visions : The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman
: Hallucinogens, Consciousness, and the Spirit of Nature
Vine : Hallucinogenic Healing in the Peruvian Amazon
of the Soul :