This Antioquian artist and an interdisciplinary group of friends comprised of biologists, anthropologists, photographers, video makers and sound artists have walked through the Amazon rainforest for the last seven years in search of colors that are treasured in plants with exotic names and features.
This team, based on the ancestral knowledge of indigenous communities, identified 11 botanical species and alchemy processes that, with traditional dyeing techniques, allow the use of pigments over natural fibers such as
fique, cotton and paper.
These fibers, a herbarium and a nursery that gathers these plants are being exhibited from last Thursday, August 14th to September 25th. The exhibition is held at the EAFIT Arts Center, located inside the Luis Echavarria Villegas Cultural Center and Library.
Color Amazonia Exhibition also includes a sound and video installation and a book that captures the amazing sensory experience of this pigment research.
According to Susana, these plants are the protagonists of this project. "It is not only about fibers or the images that can be dyed with their natural pigment, but also about their amazing ability to create color and the magnificent biodiversity found in the forgotten rainforest.”
Part of the long process that enabled this exhibition was to identify which plants were most frequently used in the Amazon, namely: Chontaduro (Bactris gasipaes), Bure (Calathea loeseneri), Huito (Genipa), Huitillo (Renealmia alpinia), Achiote (Bixa orellana), Amacizo (Erythrina fusca), Palo Brasil (Simira cordifolia), Cudi (Arrabidaea chic), Chokanary (Picramnia sellowii) and Lloron (Miconia prasina). Curcuma (turmeric or Curcuma longa), a plant native to Asia that is found in many of the areas they visited, was also included.
The next stage was to breed these plants in a land near Leticia (Amazonas department) resulting in a small-scale plantation. Subsequently and facing great difficulty, they replicated this breeding step in Medellin until acclimatization of the plants was achieved.
Each color comes from a different part of the plant: leaves, bark, roots, seeds, and the peel of the fruit. Each part needs a different extraction technique and has different uses in terms of dyeing. A garden that gathers these 11 botanical species will be on display for the first time in this exhibition that will remain open until September 25th.
"Since these plants do not withstand a cold climate and they cannot be exhibited abroad due to international regulations in exporting plants and seeds, we gladly invite visitors to enjoy this exhibition that is taking place in Medellin" states the artist.
According to Juan Antonio Agudelo Vasquez, coordinator of EAFIT's Cultural Affairs Office, in a way,
Color Amazonia reflects the University's advocacy to promote people’s respect for nature. As he said, this exhibition has no precedent in Colombia and it draws attention to a vanishing Amazonian rainforest.
Color Amazonia is the memory of a basic search using color as an excuse to exalt the immense value of the rainforest that has faded away over time. It is also a place where the transforming essence of human nature merges with the botanical nature, which offers a universe of possibilities.
In short, it is a project that combines ecology, geography, color, the beauty of shapes and, above all, an artist's urge to draw attention on a region that is not only being destroyed but neglected.
"We wanted to discover its beauty to make a very subtle complaint. We needed to remind people that the Amazon still exists," says Susana.
Everything in the exhibit was done in a rustic artisan workshop near Leticia. Native indigenous people played an essential role in
Color Amazonia, since they not only extracted the pigment from plants, but also shared their ancestral secrets with the artist to allow extracting the richness of the territory.
"This exhibition is an example of the visual richness extracted by Susana and the Amazon native women from endangered botanical species" as stated by Juan Luis Mejia Arango, President of EAFIT.
To sum up, the artist states that part of the joy she gets through this exhibition is explained by the fact that this type of projects allows indigenous peoples to make their livelihoods from their own origins.