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Welcome to the (Peruvian) jungle at Praise Shadows Art Gallery

Juan José Barboza-Gubo’s paintings and sculptures bring the Amazon alive in ‘Return-Eternal-Return.’

Juan José Barboza-Gubo, "Retorno," 2022, found boat, carved wood, carved acrylic.Courtesy Juan José Barboza-Gubo and Praise Shadows Art Gallery

Juan José Barboza-Gubo often travels into the Peruvian jungle. In “Return-Eternal-Return” at Praise Shadows Art Gallery, the artist, who is based in Lima and Boston and teaches at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, uses materials from there such as fish scales, wood, and a found boat to fashion a mystical journey into the Amazon.

His paintings and sculptures flow with unabashed gestures and details that tell stories. In “Dia-tarde-noche-dia” (“Day-afternoon-night-day”) an acrylic hoop with scales from a paiche, a fish native to the Amazon basin, evokes circles of time, evolution, and life. Peer through the hoop: It frames “De mi alma al rio” (“From my soul to the river”), a cast-iron sculpture depicting feet. The toes grip a river stone, as if about to take a leap.


Half of an old wooden boat Barboza-Gubo discovered along the Amazon River appears in “Retorno” (“Return”) propped up by branches and cradling voluptuous fronds of green-painted acrylic. Hollow sounds of wood and water echo through it in a soundscape by Peruvian sound artist Ronald Sánchez.

The boat appears at once captured and supported by nature — held up by branches and ensconced in foliage. Perhaps it has run aground on the riverbank, but the upward angle suggests it’s ready to launch, like the feet in “De mi alma al rio.” “Retorno” may be our transport into Barboza-Gubo’s jungle, which seems to have its own consciousness.

Juan José Barboza-Gubo, "Busqueda/Reencuentro," 2022, oil paint, acrylic paint, polyurethane, digital print, optical material, MDF, frosted acrylic.Courtesy Juan José Barboza-Gubo and Praise Shadows Art Gallery

That consciousness is portrayed in remarkable paintings made of digital prints, optical material, and paint rising and receding behind frosted acrylic. They hold light like gems. In the big abstract triptych “Busqueda/Reencuentro” (“Search/Reunion”), fiery orange, lime green, and rose tangle with branches and glint through darkness.

The frosted acrylic reads like an enveloping fog, and the bustling beneath suggests fertility and action. “Tu dices rara, Yo le digo misteriosa” (“You say weird, I say mysterious”), inspired by a plant growing in a glass, is convex, and the artist has painted petals and leaves on the outside of the acrylic, bursting to the surface.


Deforestation of the rain forest in Peru hit historic highs in the last decade. But reference to commodification of the Amazon is only implicit here. Barboza-Gubo’s jungle is a sacred place, seen not as a natural resource, but as a generative source.


At Praise Shadows Art Gallery, 313A Harvard St., Brookline, through Dec. 23. 617-487-5427,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Instagram @cate.mcquaid.