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For 350 years, tens of millions of pau-brasil (Paubrasilia echinata), or Brazilwood trees, were cut down, shipped to Europe, and reduced to powder for the production of reddish dye for the clothing of the European nobility. Meanings of power were attributed to their colors.

Along with other trees, the pau-brasil was subtracted from the Atlantic Forest biome, currently reduced to 7% of the original vegetation, being practically eliminated from the forest. Frighteningly, a similar process is underway in the Amazon, a biome that may suffer the same fate as the Atlantic Forest.

Pau-brasil, our founding plant, is unknown to a large part of the Brazilian people, and has been almost eliminated from our culture. At school, we learned a romanticized version of the history of colonization and exploitation of this species, a version that overshadows the violence with which it was uprooted from our soil with indigenous and African slaves. When arriving in the Old World, the tree turned color. Its trunk was transformed into the element that gave red tones to clothes between the 16th and 19th centuries.

The infusion of sawdust from the core of the stem results in a liquid of varying shades, depending on the reaction caused by the added chemical elements and even the material from the repository used. Its tones can vary: crimson, carmine, scarlet and orange, among others in this hue.

Pau-brasil remains today under threat of extinction, and at the same time as an image that represents what we still are as a country.

The present work in progress is a historical reflection through an aesthetic and critical proposal about the events that involved pau-brasil during the last six centuries and that, in a certain way, are reflected in the current Brazilian economic, political, social, and environmental situation. This work is yet another result of the author’s in-depth research into the pau-brasil theme, including the production of books, photographic essays, collages, prints, and experiments involving history, cartography, botany, environment, study of colors and dyeing in fabrics and papers.

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