Indigo: a natural dye with a characteristically deep blue hue that has achieved a cult-like status in the contemporary textile world – despite (or even because of) its 6,000 history. It has a special place in the fashion industry, given that indigo is used to dye the ubiquitous garment of casual modernity: jeans. It is also integral to the textile cultures of countries such as Japan and India, which have in turn inspired artists and designers from elsewhere in the world to experiment in the deepest blue.
This spring, the city of Marseille is host to a fascinating exhibition by the Maison de l’Artisanat et des Metiers d’Art, which seeks to celebrate indigo and its significance to different cultural traditions. Ysabel de Maisonneuve, who is the guest artist for the exhibition, is displaying some of her own creations. Her travels in Tunisia, Canada, Indonesia, India, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan have inspired her work with indigo dye, which brings together traditional dyeing techniques and a contemporary aesthetic based around dance and movement.
Ysabel’s textiles are graceful, elegant and delicate, and very different from the items on display from Japan, which make use of contrast, stencil work and deep colour. These in turn are distinct from the intricate designs on Chinese banners that are highly detailed and depict sea creatures, leaves and flowers. The ethnographic displays of Chinese, Japanese, Middle-Eastern, African, Indian, Vietnamese and Indonesian indigo design highlight the diverse ways in which indigo has been used in different cultures.
It remains to be seen how sensitive the curators have been in their depiction of material culture traditions, and how much input members of those cultures have had in the exhibition. However, we would encourage lovers of indigo to visit the exhibition if they can, and to learn more about the diverse textile traditions that are based upon indigo dye.
Indigo: When You Hold Us, 14 April - 24 May 2017
21, Cours d'Estienne d'Orves, 13001 Marseille