Indigo – the natural dye and its many luminous shadings– takes shape in a definitive book (featured below) and in the Bamako atelier of Aboubakar Fofana, a Malian-born artist and master dyer whose work can be found in exhibits and art galleries on several continents.
Indigo is a blue pigment obtained in a complex plant- and bacteria-based process that some would say is mystical. Leaves of a parasitic shrub are placed in very large dyeing vats, and the bacteria formed there are alive, allowed to ferment. “You feed them,” says Fofana.“… If they’re tired you let them rest and regenerate.”
In the master dyer’s hands, this organic, magical brew can yield textiles of deep, saturated color and luminosity, as well as the palest of blues. Fabrics dyed with natural indigo– sought after for centuries by royalty and the merely rich — can be used for homegoods, wall hangings and clothing.
Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley (Bloomsbury, 235 pp $50) is a definitive history that shows how indigo and those beautiful blue textiles are interwoven with often-turbulent times: the Colonial slave trade, the history of fashion, and the world economy. Read an excerpt from the book
Read the Q &A interview with Fofana in the New York Times – and you’ll respect the patience, skill and talent he needs to make 12 different shades using these remarkable bacteria. Fofana cares deeply about maintaining rare textile traditions – natural indigo dyeing is alive today thanks to a skillful few in Mexico, Japan and parts of Latin America. Here’s a sampler of his work on view during August (2014) at the Atelier Courbet in New York City.
Come back for another visit. More books on art, design and photography on the way!