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Dye 47 Pigment 49 Plant-based 172


Photos: Color Amazonia


Colombian artist Susana Mejía is fascinated by colour. Through her long-term research project Colour Amazonia, she aims to preserve local knowledge about natural pigments from the Amazon. She collaborated with anthropologists, botanists, filmmakers and artists to document the plants used by indigenous Huitoto and Tikuna communities to investigate 11 different dye plants and their recipes from the Amazon region. Together, they aim to prevent traditional knowledge about natural fibres dyeing from disappearing.

Since its inception, Colour Amazonia has committed to the preservation of the environment and vindication of indigenous knowledge, while delving into the ancient relationship between humans and nature through ethnobotanical and transdisciplinary research. It fosters a collective reflection on the urgency of preserving the world's most important if not last ecological reserve, both, biologically and culturally speaking. So, it stands for a shift of paradigm, at all levels, to embrace the idea of sustainability.

Plant: Chokanary
Scientific name: Picramnia sellowii
Order: Picramniales
Family: Picramniaceae
Genus: Picramnia
Species: Sellowii
Common names: Chokanari, morado, nanantahue, pahaku, sam panga.
Part of the plant used for pigment: Leaf
Colour: Purple

General Description
A small tree that can grow up to eight meters in height. Its main trunk is narrow and the branches are thin with a crown of variable size. Its leaves are small and oval, with a smooth edge, and a bright green colour when fresh, turning purplish-grey when dry. The flowers are white, small and clustered. Its fruits, red to black in colour, are similar to the fruit of the coffee bush and grow together in clusters.

Geographic Distribution and Natural History
Although it is considered a native species of the Amazon basin, it is widely distributed in tropical America, from Florida to Argentina. It has been found in Mexico, Loreto in Peru, the Yungas region in Bolivia, the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Colombian Amazon, Paraguay, and Brazil. Although it is a tree from hot regions, it grows best in the shade.

In the Nangaritza Valley in southern Ecuador, the Shuar make compresses with its leaves to treat wounds. Similarly, the Moseten in the Bolivian Amazon uses them to treat skin conditions. The branches, leaves and fruits produce a purple dye. Different shades of violet are obtained from the leaves, which are highly appreciated by the indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, who call it unna. Indigenous communities in the Amazon use it to dye natural fibres, paint fabrics, and decorate homes. In the Colombian Pacific its wood is used to build boats and houses.

Making process

The chokanary produces a purple dye that is extracted after macerating its leaves. This is a very rare species, providing attractive dyes given the intensity of its purple and the excellent adhesion on paper, fique and cotton. It is a versatile pigment since it turns brownish-red when exposed to fire. In this case, however, the colour was applied without exposure to heat.

Text submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank. For information about reproducing (a part of) this text, please contact the maker.