Three years ago I started to get interested in the zero-waste movement and to change radically my relationship with the world. I started to avoid packaging and plastic whenever possible and realised that it was possible to live comfortably consuming a lot less and producing my own cleaning and beauty products, eating unprocessed foods and looking for organic stuff. With zero waste in my life, I've found that nature has a lot of the answers to daily questions, that they are much simpler than you think and that we can produce the vast majority of things on our own.
I started to try and live with as little waste as possible at home but it lead me to also rethink about the raw materials that I used in my work as a fine artist. I started looking at how the pigments were produced and if it was possible for me to do it myself without having to buy paint, which is mostly toxic and involves massive industrialised process including it's importation, fuel waste, badly paid workers, lots of packaging and all this at a very high cost. In Brazil, good paint is always imported and costs up to four times more than in the US or Europe.
Looking for alternatives and answers I asked my then college professors about natural pigments but they told me that it was impossible, because everything found in nature was dye and not pigment, which would not be useful to make work. I was discouraged but the desire to discover natural dyes and pigments remained with me.
During my final year at university I wrote a thesis combining art and the environment. I encountered some difficulties due to the fact that no one at the university knew much about art and sustainability or environmental education, so I had to discover and research it myself. The zero waste life style gave me a kind of general understanding and made me more conscious about where my products came from and where it goes when it is thrown away. As well as what the product is made of or who is benefiting with my purchase. My intention with my thesis and the workshop I gave, was to provide a "complex reasoning" of the world and enable people to look again at their daily consumption and at the reality we are presented with. I based this on the work of the sociologist Edgar Morin in the "Seven Complex Lessons in Education " and "The introduction to the complex thought".
It was a waste awareness workshop, which utilised artistic observation and self reflection to emphasise the amount of waste each one of us produces. Whilst putting together these workshops the urge to work with the natural pigments resurfaced but I still didn't know how to produce them.
After graduating I moved from São Paulo, a huge metropolis of 14 million people to a small town in the middle of Brazil in the hopes of living in closer contact with nature and to live in a more sustainable way. The area is known as the Brazilian savannah and the cradle of rivers as some of the major rivers of the country begin here. It is a place of spectacular scenery with unique plants and animals. The Cerrado (as it is called here) contains natural remedies, surprises and a wealth of traditional knowledge in almost every tree that you walk by.
Despite being a very beautiful place and also serving as the model of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) there are stark contrasts in wealth, present in the whole country, where very poor people have little to no access to decent education and health services in this small town of around 5,000 inhabitants. The inequality is aparante and has been exacerbated by the buying up of land and houses by foreign investors and the influx of more affluent people form the big cities. This has driven a wedge between the people that where here already and that had a connection to the land and and those coming in now, isolating these groups. This results in people that live here totally unaware of their surroundings and unaware of the knowledge possessed by those that have been working the land for centuries, their traditions and sustainable ways of producing and living. In a more general way it also means that people tend to reproduce the bad habits of the big cities and repeat mistakes in trying to develop the region.
As a teacher, fine artist and part of the zero-waste movement, I wanted to try and bring the techniques that I had learnt to raise awareness of these issues and to help people engage more with their surroundings. One way is by combining art and ideias of zero-waste to talk about nature as with the workshops I had given before. Working with natural pigments is a great way to raise this awareness and also to link to the importance of preserving the Cerrado, promoting integration with the city and nature that surrounds us and showing that these materials are available to everyone in a very democratic way.
Working with art is important as it can be used as a transversal subject to get in many important topics. But I'm working with children that have never had an art education before, which makes this dialog even more necessary and somehow, more exciting.
As soon as I arrived here I looked for natural dyes and found only black dye (mango leaf) and orange dye (saffron) which are already being used here. But with the richness of materials here I know that there must be ways of producing others.
I would like to use the pigments with the children I am teaching now, doing environmental education projects and workshops through art. I hope that one day I can take these workshops to other communities in the area, to encourage more exchange of ideas, workshops and training to help communicate these ideas in the region.. And also learn with them.
Talking about my personal work as an artist (which is not separated from the classes, as a I believe in collaborative classrooms as a collective and individual process) I am developing work with a beeswax (encaustic process), natural ink and wood which I propose to show the reliefs, contrasts of the peaks and troughs, colours and shadows of the landscape of the cerrado.
So for me, in this journey I have been on looking for alternative ways to produce materials, I can not really express in words how enriching it is to participate in the online course of CAES. I believe that it is the missing piece for my growth as a teacher, artist, and to live in a more zero-waste lifestyle.