Blue contains whole worlds in its shades- the twinkle of sapphires, the inky hues of a storm at sea, or the spotted simplicity of a robin’s egg. Blue is a spectrum and its variations are a fitting way to hold past, present, and future stories of Black people… the joy and jubilee, the pain and protest, the personal and communal. In the Blue exhibit, the ‘old’ is represented by yards of indigo-dyed Àdìrẹ from Nigeria and guinea fowl indigo designs from Mali. These symbols are put in dialogue with contemporary large-scale fabric collages, eye-catching abstractions, and cyanotype photographs of the 2020 demonstrations against police brutality. As a visual thread, blue (and by extension, ideas of Blackness and African-ness) is shown to hold much more than stagnant history and simplistic ideas of identity.
Àdìrẹ is derived from two Yoruba words- Adi which means ‘to tie’ and Re which means ‘to dye’. There are various methods to create the patterns, including starch resist (Àdìrẹ Ẹlẹ’kọ), tied resist (Àdìrẹ Oníko), stitch resist (Àdìrẹ Alábẹrẹ) and more recently, wax resist (Àdìrẹ Batik) which is how the cotton damask patterns in this exhibit were made. The designs and symbols on Àdìrẹ fabric are commonly laid out in 8×8 inch squares, each containing a pattern that simulate cultural items and proverbs about musical instruments, common plants in Yoruba culture, being at personal or community crossroads and seeking good fortune. Due to COVID travel restrictions, the Àdìrẹ shown in this exhibit were purchased from a UK-based Etsy vendor who sources the textiles from artisans in Oṣogbo, Nigeria. Learning about these patterns is a cultural memory with aesthetic ties to the contemporary artwork in the exhibit.