A few weeks ago I headed east to visit the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe. There I met Aboubakar Fofana, a master Indigo dyer, textile designer and calligrapher from Mali. Famous for his work in reviving natural indigo dyeing and mudcloth techniques in the West African country of Mali, his textiles are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
After 20 years of living in Paris, Fofana traveled back to Mali to research and experiment with natural indigo techniques that were almost lost to the use of chemical dyes with grave ecological consequences. Awarded a grant to study in Japan, Fofana worked with master dyer Akiyama Masakazua. Despite being worlds apart, the textile traditions of Japan are actually not that dissimilar and you can now see some of this Japanese influence in his work.
Natural indigo dying is a labor intensive and difficult process to master. The indigo vats are typically held for 9-12 months and require a specialized diet of honey, bran, wheat and mashed banana to keep the vats “alive” with the bacteria needed to produce the range of indigo hues. Each piece is an individual work of art, full of emotion, tradition and feeling.