Reviews/Perth Festival/Visual Art

A shift in consciousness

12 February 2020

The virtual reality experience of ‘Awavena’ allows Craig McKeough to watch, transfixed, a revolution in the rainforest.

Review: Perth Festival, Lynette Wallworth, ‘Awavena’ ·
Art Gallery of Western Australia ·
Review by Craig McKeough ·

The technology that has made the world more instantly connected than ever can also lead to isolation at an individual level, as we lock ourselves away from direct human contact to focus on the digital world and our virtual human connections.

That same paradox is at play in “Awavena”, a startling visual experience that employs cutting-edge technology to take the viewer inside the world of an age-old and largely hidden culture.

The wonder of virtual reality (VR) brings the story of the Yawanawa tribe – the people of the wild boar – in the Brazilian Amazon to the wider world for the first time. More specifically, we are privileged to watch a remarkable series of events as the Yawanawa anoint their first female shaman.

This a fully immersive experience that effectively breaks down the walls between the 21st century Western world and the remote Amazon, where people still live simple, traditional lives.

Australian filmmaker Lynette Wallworth was invited to witness this revolution in the rainforest. It begins with quite intimate moments involving Tata, the ageing shaman, as he reveals his radical decision to allow Hushahu to replace him as the first woman to hold the mystical role of their people’s spiritual leader.

Wallworth’s film takes viewers inside Hushahu’s world, from the moment she learns she has been chosen, through her initiation process with all the doubts and fears that carries, even crossing the bridge from the physical to the spiritual world, to the moment where she assumes her new role with a quiet dignity and humility.

The use of VR technology combined with specialised lighting allows us to see the colours of spectacular luminescent specimens from the forest. There are clear parallels with the effects of the mind-altering “medicines” Hushahu takes to bring on the visions that tell her she is truly ready to be shaman.

Wallworth says the invitation to film in the Yawanawa’s domain was a gift from them to those who will virtually visit their forest and see this short recording – a gift they hope will shift our consciousness, changing the way we perceive the world and the decisions we make.

Emerging from under the spell of “Awavena” after 40 minutes is a disconcerting moment. Such is the power of the experience, it can take a few minutes to reorient yourself to the here and now. That is not just the unsettling physical step of removing the VR apparatus and focusing on what is actually in the room. It is more about the realisation that you have spent time in the presence of a remarkable woman who has upended life in her small part of the world and changed it for the better, especially for women who were previously treated as second-class humans.

Hushahu’s rise to shaman has transformed life for her people. And the short period we can spend immersed in her magical story will open eyes and hearts to another way of seeing the world and our part in it.

You leave with a definite sense of the interconnectedness of all things. Even if you have never previously considered the lives of the people of the Amazon, spending time in the world of “Awavena” is an experience that will be hard to forget.

Bookings are required to experience ‘Awavena’, which runs until 2 March 2020.

Pictured top: This production shot from ‘Awavena’ shows Hushahu on the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds.

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Author —
Craig McKeough

Craig McKeough is a writer and visual artist, with a lifetime’s experience in journalism, covering everything from the arts to horse racing, politics and agriculture. Craig has always been drawn to the swing; an egalitarian, grounding piece of equipment where you can go as high and wild as you want, but you’ll always return to where you started.

Past Articles

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