Dealing in the divine

My world collided last week. What serendipity! Kim and I had the good fortune to attend a daylong symposium about indigo at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

There we were among leading scholars, curators, thinkers, and practitioners of the art of indigo. The goal was to clarify the intellectual underpinnings and artistic priorities of an intervention, planned for 2021, for the museum’s Charleston, S.C., period rooms, two rooms removed from a house once owned by Col. John Stuart. The colonial made his fortune off the labor and wisdom of enslaved people, some of whom likely brought with them a tradition of indigo from West Africa. Grown for export to Britain, indigo was a major industry before the Civil War.

Mia curators Nicole LaBouff and Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers assembled the leading lights of indigo scholarship, along with members of the Minneapolis-based Cultural Wellness Center, local natural-dye artist Annabella Sardelis of Indigo and Snow, and two fine artists from Mali and Chicago, respectively: Aboubakar Fofana and Folayemi Wilson.

There’s still much to be worked out, but it’s likely that Fofana and Wilson will create original pieces to animate the unseen stories behind indigo at the Stuart house. I have every confidence this intervention will be revelatory, both in illuminating the stories behind and also the beauty of indigo.

To Fofana, indigo is a spiritual substance. In Mali, where he runs an indigo farm for his art practice, the plant is a “divine tree,” he said, which his grandmother used in traditional healing for its antiseptic properties. “I’m trying to preserve and maintain a lost tradition,” he said. “Because losing that is like losing my soul. And it keeps [my grandmother] in my life.”

Meeting Fofana fulfilled a dream of ours. His palette of indigo reaches to 12 shades, and he has a lovely name for each of them. He is gentle, thoughtful, generous and inspiring.

After the Mia event, he held a trunk show at the Textile Center. An enthusiastic audience eagerly embraced him. Minnesotans love their textile makers.

Stay tuned for future sightings of Fofana and Wilson in Mia’s galleries. Let there be indigo!

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