Wednesday, March 22, 2023
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Indelible Blue

History of Slavery Informs Textile Exhibit


Hands and feet, dyed in blue, make an indelible image. So thought Josie Lopez and Leslie Kim when they watched "Blue Alchemy" (New Deal Films, Corrales, 2011), an exploration of how indigo was grown, cultivated and turned into a dye at different points in history all across the globe. But to Lopez, head curator of the Albuquerque Museum, and Kim, who is curator of history there, those blue limbs looked like slavery. Inspired to present an exhibit of nuanced ideas regarding indigo, Lopez and Kim collaborated on "Indelible Blue: Indigo Across the Globe," now showing at the museum.

Woven Story Threads

Art and history go hand in hand. Kim's research uncovered a sample of indigo found in Peru in 2016 that is about 1,600 years older than any previously retrieved scrap. Lopez wants the viewer to ask the question, “What does it mean that indigo was a product and part of the story of colonialism?”

In the 19th Century, for example, British traders forced the planting of indigo in India, causing the farmers to be squeezed from all directions: they had no room to plant food crops, extremely high-interest loans kept them indebted for life and it was impossible to profit. A bloody 1859 revolt by the farmers is proof of indigo's historical relevance as a crop of colonization.

Elevating the Natural World 

Red, White, Black and Blue: An Homage to African American Indigo. Nikesha Breeze, Taos, NM. 2021

Visitors can view the workmanship, attention to detail, balance and color that attends this unique way in the advancement of fiber arts. Local art from the 19th century to contemporary works are on display. Rita Padilla Haufmann harvests indigo and lives in Tesuque; she traces her lineage back to some of the earliest Spanish weavers in the state. New Mexican Santero Charlie Carrillo presents examples of indigo throughout his contemporary artwork. Carillo sources his dark indigo blues from Mexico and the lighter indigo blues are from a mine down in Zuni. The work of artist Nikesha Breeze in particular explores indigo and its impact on slavery and is included in "Indelible Blue." Breeze’s piece brings the exhibit back to the Americas and incorporates a component of "Blue Alchemy" with issues of slavery portrayed by the hands and feet of workers in indigo.

Artistically, Lopez remarked, the exhibit “blurs the lines between fine art and craft.” 

Indigo at Home and Abroad

This show brings attention to environmental impacts through the way synthetic dyes have been used to produce fast fashion and blue jeans. “Indigo is not just a natural crop but it is an integral part of how people think about being on this planet and how we are all integrated,” Lopez said.

You can expect a deep dive into the art of indigo and its history when you tour this exhibit. Global threads throughout the exhibition are geographical focal points, traditions, culture, craft and fine arts, from Africa, Japan, China and New Mexico. "Indelible Blue" presents issues from the environment, stories of colonization, and the different ways in which indigo is used as an everyday product.

The exhibition is open to the public through April 24. 


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