A Survey on Sorrel: From Drinks to Dyes

Kemar Keanu Wynter, A Survey on Sorrel: From Drinks to Dyes, 2022. Photo: B. Oswald

In summer 2022, New York-based artist Kemar Keanu Wynter led the workshop A Survey on Sorrel: From Drinks to Dyes, collaborating with students from District 1’s Summer Rising program.

Sorrel, bissap, zobo and agua de Jamaica– a few of the many names for the ruddied-violet beverage steeped from the petals and sepals of the hibiscus flower. A crucial fixture within Black diasporic culinary traditions along the coastlines of the Atlantic, the brew is an essential libation through the summer months and celebrations year-round.

Naturally abundant and richly hued, sorrel doubles as an incredibly accessible base for dyeing. With the inclusion of alum, that same brew for drinking can be readily used to tint fibers from wools to cottons and polyesters. For this workshop, Wynter provided students with a short survey on sorrel, introducing them to raw hibiscus flowers, from which they prepared his auntie’s classic recipe for everyone to sample. The students then joined Wyner in a dyeing session wherein students could pigment items they brought from home.