I had to go to Seattle the other day, so I took advantage of the chance to see the Mood Indigo textile exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. I'd been hearing about it, and knew it was a must-see sometime before October. I'd also heard from Rowland Ricketts that he'd just hung a show in Seattle, but I didn't put two and two together until I saw this interview.
The prospect of seeing Rowland's work in person was galvanizing. I'd seen his presentations at the Textile Society symposia, and knew from assisting him at an indigo workshop that his work is deep and resonant. Steeped in the traditions of Japanese indigo processing, and constantly manifesting awe and respect for the materials, it seemed utterly appropriate that his work would feature in an indigo-focused exhibit.
Beginning with his work at the entry, this whole exhibit felt like a gathering of friends. Each piece was familiar to me in some way, from the Yoruba eleko cloth to the Lao supplementary weft weaving. I've encountered these things before, and the commingling of their stories made for a polyphonic celebration of skill, with the powerful undertone of indigo holding it all together.
Some of these pieces I just knew from seeing images, or seeing things like them, such as the Nigerian robes and the Japanese futon covers and fireman's clothing. Others were more technically familiar, such as the Yoruba resist-dyed cloths. The year I spent at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston was focused on a resist-dyeing course taught by Stanley Pinckney, who studied with the Yoruba in Nigeria. He taught us the techniques one by one: elo, eleso, alabere, sabada, eleko.... all different manners of tying, stitching, folding or otherwise resisting the dye on cloth. We did not get to use indigo in that class, but were shown countless images of the traditional cloths from Nigeria, intricate and stunning.
Another piece that felt strikingly familiar is the Mapuche ikat weaving. I've been admiring this bold design and impressive technique since I saw it on Laverne's blog post a couple of years ago. Since then, she has reproduced the technique quite successfully, and I attempted it, with less success - but constantly felt inspired by these strong shapes. Wonderful to see them in indigo.
There were also familiar supplementary-weft weavings from Laos, Indonesian ikats and batiks, and ancient Peruvian tapestry-woven pieces. Each one spoke to me in a known language, each containing a wealth of technique, traditional expertise, and cultural significance. Since I surround myself with this sort of thing as much as possible, I felt at home, but of course the quality, antiquity and sheer volume of textile wealth of this exhibit are nothing I encounter very often.
Even so, I could think of things that were not included, such as Hmong handwoven lengths of indigo batik hemp, used in skirts. The hill tribes of southern China and Southeast Asia use a lot of indigo in their fabric for clothing.
Leaving you with images from my collection and my own work, and with the urge to use more indigo. It just never gets old, this true color.