Artist Aboubakar Fofana from Indigo; In Search of the Color that Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley
Indigo became an obsession. I’d lie in bed, where I seemed to be spending an increasing amount of time, and imagine what I would dye next. Scarves, bags, toddler berets, deeply-unflattering-tunics, bedding, table settings, an old chamois for car washing, a sweatshirt for my dog. It all happened.
I was at once embarrassed by this weird little fixation I was experiencing, and also grateful. I was sick, and very scared, and the indigo gave me something beautiful to think about.
It was one day, as I was leaning over the dye vat, with my hands submerged, that I became aware that there was some kind of spirit attached to the indigo. It’s hard to explain, but I felt a definite presence, healing in nature that was connected to the dye. I also began dreaming about a female spirit, always in blue and white, with stars in her hair, who seemed to be connected to indigo, too. After that I would always thank the spirit for her help and generosity.
Now that indigo had captured my heart, I wanted to know more about its history. I read and watched a great deal, but the two standouts are Indigo; In Search of the Color that Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley, and the documentary “Blue Alchemy: Stories of Indigo” by Mary Lance. What both of these beautiful works really drove home to me is that almost everyone who works with indigo extensively speaks of feeling the presence of spirit connected to the plant and dye. On four different continents, every indigo artisan interviewed for Ms. Lance’s film spoke of making offerings, and/or saying prayers to the spirit connected to the dye. In Nigeria, the striking artist Nike Davies-Okundaye spoke of a specific goddess connected to indigo, and that prayers were said to her every morning.
As I continued researching, I learned that because it is fermented, indigo is considered alive. Consequently, it is thought to have healing properties, and in many cultures women who are having health issues are sent to work with it. I became certain this was more than coincidence, this was a kind of divine guidance. I was supposed to work with indigo.
Autumn came and it became too cold for me to dye anymore for the year. The mass in my body did not get smaller and I had to have surgery to remove it. Surgery went beautifully, but it turned out to be a bigger deal than expected and recovery was arduous. Months passed and I wondered if I’d ever feel good, or even human, again.