Cultivating Colour

walking down to the garden

Sigrid Holmwood

Cultivating Colour, 2013 ongoing

Cultivating Colour is a long term, on going project in collaboration with Joya: Arte + Ecología which started in 2013. The project is centred on the construction of a pigment garden in the Sierra María los Vélez mountain range in Almería, Northen Eastern Andalusia, Spain. The location of the garden is on farmland abandoned during the migration to the cities in the 60s. Semi-arid, and mountainous, it is considered poor agricultural land, while on the plains below intensive farming methods using vast quantities of plastic and underpaid migrant labour export year round fruit and vegetables to Northern Europe. Here, capitalist agricultural over-production confronts self-sufficiency. Developing this garden involves researching the local ecology and historical land-use in order to select a range of suitable plants for the garden.

As part of the ongoing research I am making pigments from the selected plants and painting with them, which in turn influences subsequent plantings and pigment-making techniques. As well as the colour and handling properties, the biosocial history informs the work. Above all, this project has revealed that thinking in terms of ‘native’ plants is highly problematic, and that there is no ‘pure’, ‘original’ state, rather a constant dynamic negotiation and confrontation between plants, people, earths and, of course, the climate. Indeed, the presence of the Mexican opuntia cactus with its attendant plague of red-producing cochineal demonstrates how Spain’s colonisation of the Americas is inscribed into the landscape, to the extent that many Spaghetti Western movies were filmed nearby.

Consequently, my research has taken me from a very local situation in Andalusia to colonial Mexico, as I not only draw on Moorish agricultural treatises written in the time of Al Andaluz, but also the Florentine Codex, (‘La Historia General de las codas de Nueva España/ The General History of the Things of New Spain), a 16th century encyclopaedic volume, compiled in Spanish and Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, by Friar Bernadino Sahagún, and an anonymous group of Nahua scribes. This is leading me to confront how painting itself may operate differently under different ontologies, and how we may think along the borders between the two in a ‘cannibal metaphysics’ of painting.


1 aliaga 2 aliaga pigment 4 collecting madder seeds 5 opuntia pads infected with cochineal 6 cochineal pigment

7 nocheztli florentine codex 8 colonial production of cochineal

9-three-peasants-examining-nochetzli-cochineal 10-two-peasants-going-down-to-the-garden 11-three-peasants-watering 12-rubia-over-red-earth-aliaga-over-texotli

13 picking woad 14 stirring woad 15 whisking woad

Sigrid Holmwood