Botanical Bodies

Through Botanical Bodies, I partner with public gardens and farms in New York City, schools, families and individuals to grow dye and fiber plants from seed. This process is as much a study of local ecology, climate and climate change as it is a window into forced labor and migration histories, and the embedded power structures of colonialism. Through public programs, I lead adults and children through the deliberative processing of indigo leaves into blue dye, and cotton fiber into spun yarn while acknowledging foundational enslaved labor by Africans and the survival of indigenous people, plants and customs despite their removal from their lands. 

Botanical Bodies: Indigo, Goldenrod, Marigolds. 2022. Embroidery on fabric dyed with indigo and goldenrod; Japanese indigo and giant marigolds grown in collaboration with Director of Gardens, Sam Lewis at Old Stone House & Washington Park.

Foraging for native dye plants, like goldenrod, which grows abundantly in neighborhoods in and near Carroll Gardens, Gowanus and Park Slope, Brooklyn; and growing non-native varieties of indigo, hibiscus, marigolds, cotton and flax, I am highly attuned to weather and seasonal patterns and changes, how wet a city New York is, and how increasingly unpredictable our seasons. In other words, it’s impossible to ignore the local, daily impacts of climate change.

While acknowledging complex, intersecting migration, labor, social and cultural histories of peoples and plants, I also celebrate living in connection to the natural world, especially in South Brooklyn where large-scale development is ripe, and we’ve moved past gentrification to some new wave of Brooklyn unimagined in my childhood.

Engaging ancient and contemporary dye-making methods contracts distance and time, connecting me (us) to centuries of culturally embedded practice, while benefitting from sensory engagement (touch, sight, smell of the plants).

Using freshly harvested Japanese indigo leaves cultivated at Old Stone House & Washington Park, summer 2020. Sponsored in part by a Greater New York Arts Development Fund grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).
Multiple dye-making methods for Japanese indigo, including the salt rub method, practiced in Japan and Korea. Special guest artist, Rosa Sung Ji Chang shares methods learned from working for a Japanese dye studio and from her birth country, South Korea.
Healing Garden, appliqué and embroidery on fabric. 2021. Pictured in the exhibit, Acid Garden, curated by Peter Hristoff and Judy Mannarino at Charles Moffett Gallery, NYC

Indigo dyeing for Brooklyn Textile Farm

Click to read this book, made with Book Creator