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Form der Unruhe - Curated by Luísa Telles
São Paulo, Brazil

Tapestry and ceramics
wool and cotton dyed with pau-brasil

© Júlia Thompson


Nothing is innocent, not even the colors, as shown in the work Brasilina by Flávia Vieira. The red that we find in the textile and ceramic elements of the artist's installation is the result of the "brazilin" pigment obtained from the wood of the pau-brasil tree. The exploitation of pau-brasil was the first economic activity carried out by the Portuguese in South America in the colonial period from the 16th century onwards.

The extraction of pau-brasil was made with indigenous labor of the Tupinambás tribe, obtained from the practice of barter, that is, the exchange of goods of small European objects for heavy work. Having been a product of great commercial value for Portugal in the colonial period between the 16th and 28th centuries, the pigment of brazilin was used as a coloring matter in the textile dyeing process. This botanical discovery changed the wardrobes of Europe. The preponderance of this pigment in the development of fashion and in the constitution of social codes in the European context, namely in Portugal, made it an element of great cultural and economic relevance. Thus, while the pigment of brazilin had a ritualistic meaning for the Tupinambás, in the European context it was understood as an economic product and as a symbol of social status.

Imperialism, colonialism and slavery provided the economic basis for wealth in Europe, reflected in the emergence of nation-states and the wealth of commercial cities such as Hamburg and São Paulo. This wealth also served as a basis for the development of European ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The economic basis of western freedom was manifested through the lack of freedom, slavery and servitude to others. The imposition of European fantasies through the subjugation of “the other” happens not only materially, but also from a symbolic point of view: things are considered valuable if they are rare and/or expensive to consume or produce (such as fabrics, metals, paintings,…). Luxury is based not only on labor, but also on the exploration of others and of nature. Ultimately, the dominating subject enjoys the destruction of what is alive through his heroic fantasy of freedom, which pretends that he – as owner and possessor of others and things – can assume death. Plants, clothes, delicacies, meat, furniture, houses, translate an unequal history between dominators and subjugated.

When Vieira uses the pigment to dye wool and cotton, and later uses this material to weave fabrics, there is a movement of displacement from colonial history to the present day. There is a desire to reactivate and discuss the colonial narrative that makes up the Brazil/Portugal relationship through manual work.

Heidi Salaverria


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