This is a tale of INDIGO… blue gold as was called owing to its high value as a trading commodity. Its earliest traces were found in the fabric remnants dyed blue dated 1750 BC from Mohenjo-Daro, and also the blue striped borders of Egyptian Mummy clothes from around 2400 BC. Etymological trace of this blue pigment leads us to the Greek word ‘indikon’ as was adopted in Latin as ‘indicum’ which meant product from India. The first known recorded use of indigo as a colour name in English was in 1289.
When in the late 15th Century, Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India, began a new era of importing the indigo dye derived from the plant Indigofera. No wonder the English were magnetized by India as a source of spices and indigo. The escalated importation and use of Indigo in Europe forced the East India Company to impose indigo cultivation instead of food crops upon the local farmers which propelled the 1917 revolt in Chamaparan. Indigo thus became a symbol of patriotism, also reflecting the violent human-plant relationship.
Why is indigo blue so important after all? Jenny Balfour-Paul in her “Indigo : Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans” unfolds the mystique. “It echoes the infinite richness of the sea, the midnight sky, the shadowy dusk and early dawn, and represents the elusive seventh colour of the rainbow which some people cannot see. In the Medieval and Byzantine worlds blue was associated with divinity and humility and in India with infinity and the capricious god Krishna. Many see it as a spiritual or reassuring colour, standing for loyalty, as opposed to yellow, the colour of cowards. Although it represented happiness for many, for many it evokes the blues, both in mood and in music. Duke Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ provokes a sense of blue melancholy also expressed by Goethe, Picasso and others. Some societies, including Islamic and Indonesian consider indigo ‘dark’ or ‘black’.”
All these opulent layers hidden in this colour are projected through the thirty paintings’ series titled INDIGO ROUTES curated by Taniya Vaidya. In the art of natural dyeing, nature and culture are intrinsically linked. The poetic river scapes of Bengal and Bihar that had indigo plantations, and the riverside culture that helped the transportation of indigo are the inspirational forces behind many of these paintings. The use of the monochromatic palette and of the commensurate white is influenced from the paintings of Alberto Giacometti, and the drawings of artists like Peter Paul Reubens and Rabindranath Tagore.
Taniya Vaidya as the master of natural dye painting technique uses khadi as the canvas for these paintings. She replaced chemical colours with those extracted from turmeric, pomegranate rind, jaggery, madder, myrobalan, lime, babul gum paste and indigo obtained using natural vats. At a time twelve paintings are done in a series that undergo this rigorous process of resin application and layers of dyes followed by washing, drying and again dyeing.