In the Mood for Colours: Green Objects

What does the colour green make you think of? Hope, nature, spring, healing, tranquility, youth, Protestantism, Satan, a Greek statue, a banker’s lamp or copper patina? In theory, green is a cold colour, but we still tend to associate it with pleasant feelings. Sometimes, though, it can be rough and angry. Green is the colour of nature, and has remained so even as civilization has progressed, while accumulating more and more symbolic meanings. When we think of green as the colour of nature and culture, it is not usually pigments that are in our minds. For a young person today, green is inseparably associated with the rough but good-natured figure of Shrek. In the late 20th- century political discourse, green represents the critical tone of environmental activism. Green is taking on a louder voice all over the world, protesting on behalf of nature, where it started off.

Are plates of glass, rivers and lakes really green? What can we learn and experience to make the distinctions? Seeing grass, or emerald, or malachite? Hearing a bible story about green? And does painting a doctor’s waiting room green really keep you calm? What about the etymology? The word for green in all Neo-Latin languages derives from the Latin word that means both green and fresh – viridis. Do the words in these languages actually refer to the same colours? Why is the continent Oceania represented as green in the five Olympic rings?

In applied arts, the colour of an object is often linked to its material, form and potential uses. Tapestries and floral-pattern fabrics that bring nature into the room, ornamental dishes shaped like plants, the everyday vestments of Catholic liturgy, and things made of malachite and uranium glass are all brought together in one room to give a kind of cross-section of the wide world of the colour green.

by Zsófia Frazon, ethnographer (Museum of Ethnography, Budapest)