Tali Weinberg is an awesome fiber artist, weaver, dyer, blogger and TAC’s friend living in Brooklyn. Tali’s work entitled “The males have wings while it is the females whose bodies are crushed to extract their red dye. But red is also the color of the sun” is about cochineal.

Cochineal is a tiny tiny bug that lives on cactus throughout most of all Central South America and that yields a beautiful red dye when crushed. Cochineal has been used as a dye for almost 2000 years by Precolumbian peoples. As a dye it has the extraordinary ability of shifting is color from orange to purple, just by changing the pH of the dye bath, from acidic to more alkaline, respectively.






Women collecting cochineal in Peru , from the cactus (left) and cochineal bugs dried (right) – images courtesy of Turkey Red Journal

Different shades obtained with cochineal with different mordants and pHs

(image courtesy of Jean Dean’s Wild Color)

However, Tali’s work isn’t only about cochineal. As Talis describes it “This particular piece refers to the maquiladoras (sweatshops), the violence against women they have fueled, and existing alternatives – and it relies on your participation to be complete.”

(images courtesy of Tali Weinberg)

This woven blanket was part of  a show to raise awareness about violence in Juarez, Mexico, in September. It was showed again this month in Queens, at Thalia Theater.

For several months Tali dyed ten thousands of yards of organic cotton, silk and wool with cochineal and used it to weave blankets and pillows. Here’s the video that documents all the process:

“This process of making contains a dual metaphor. It is a visualization of the violence that often lies behind the products we consume (even objects made for our own comfort and security). It is simultaneously a visualization of an alternative: a hand production process that brings together producer and consumer and that has thoughtfully considered the network of people and materials that make up the production of this particular object of comfort and intimacy.”

Cochineal was used extensively in Peru during the Precolumbian and Colonial times and his still used today in traditional fiber arts, as Owyn and I had the chance to see while there. And the process of dyeing today with cochineal in Peru, or the one that Tali used, is still the same that produced this red and vibrant color 1000 years ago:

Detail of coca bag, Peru, Moche culture, 5th-6th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. The image is also the cover of Elena Phips’ overview on cochineal distribution and use throughout the world “Cochineal Red – The Art History of a Color”, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2010.

(image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art)