Thirteen to Zero – Exploring Sustainable Design

le designFor those of you in Vancouver,  I highly recommend checking out the first solo exhibition of fellow natural dyer Dawn Russell. Dawn has a wonderful organic approach to creating her work. She captures the beauty, colour and texture of nature with photography and sketches which she uses to inspire her very experimental, very exciting pieces, using only natural dye plants and natural fibres. 

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The Yoruba Blues – Adirẹ Techniques

Yoruba people have enjoyed a longstanding relationship with indigo dye for centuries. “The Yorubas are masters of the indigo dyeing process”. (Gillow, 2012)

Kijipa is the earliest known indigenous Yoruba fabric, made of local hand spun cotton, woven on an upright single heddle loom or a narrow-strip double heddle loom and dyed with indigo.

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In  C19th Yoruba towns in south-west Nigeria Oshogbo, Ibadan, Ilorin, Oyo and Abeokuta, Yoruba women responded to newly imported European commercial woven cloth with a unique indigo dyeing technique called, àdìrẹ. Although the word literally means “that which is tied and dyed”  it is more of a generic word for the indigo dyeing process which has evolved over time and incorporates different techniques which create patterns by resisting the dye. After the pattern work is complete the fabric is immersed in the indigo dye many times to achieve the deep indigo blues prized by Yoruba people.

Àdìrẹ elejo is made by tying seeds in the cloth before dyeing.

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Adirẹ alabẹrẹ is one of the oldest forms of àdìrẹ and was originally made using hand spun and woven cloth. The cloth is folded and stitched to create a resist pattern. The early alabẹrẹ patterns were created with hand stitching with raffia to create very definite strong marks. More modern patterns are created using machine stitch which creates more subtle patterns.

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Àdìrẹ oniko is where the cloth is tied with raffia.

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Àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko comprises intricate cassava paste resist patterns applied through stencils or freehand before indigo dyeing. Stencilled àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko is said to have originated in Abeokuta and freehand àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko from Ibadan. Both were produced from original freehand drawings.

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Àdìrẹ alabela is a more recent àdìrẹ technique, where candle wax is used to create a resist.

One of the most prominent practitioners of àdìrẹ practitioners is Chief (Mrs) Nike Davies-Okundaye. Nike was brought up amidst the traditional weaving and dying practice in her native village of Ogidi-Ijumu, Kogi State, in Western Nigeria. Okundaye. Nike began weaving at the age of six and was introduced to àdìrẹ textiles, indigo dyeing, weaving, painting and embroidery by her aunt, great grandmother and grandmother, who at the time, was the leader of cloth weavers in the community. Nike has taught àdìrẹ workshops and exhibited internationally and created four art centres in Nigeria which continue to offer free training to young artists in àdìrẹ and other art forms including performing arts.

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Nike is also the owner of the largest art gallery in West Africa, Nike Art Center, based in Lekki, Lagos. Nigeria and contains over 7,000 artworks. I’ll write separate posts about the gallery and more about Nike and her own work. 

I am very grateful to Nike who generously gave me access to her amazing collection of vintage àdìrẹ textiles and spent time explaining the Yoruba names and meanings of some of the patterns.

The ability to withstand adversity is represented in the popular ewé ẹgẹ́ (cassava leaf) motif.

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A motif like olokoto, which means circle of life reminds us that life is circular.  This references the Yoruba believe that life does not end with death but continues in another realm or another cycle.

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A design called Èégun-ẹja meaning fish bone means “don’t bite off more than you chew”. 

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I’m on my way to Abeokuta and Ibadan, home to àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. It will be interesting to find out if anyone still practices these techniques and uses natural indigo dye.

References

Books 

Carr, R. (ed.) (2001) Beyond Indigo: Adire Eleko Square, Patterns and Meanings. Lagos, Nigeria.

Clarke, D. (2002) The art of African textiles. United Kingdom: Grange Books.

Davies, A. (2014) Storytelling Through Adire: An Introduction to Adire Making and Pattern Meanings. Lagos : A Davies.

eds. E.P. Renne and Babatunde Agbaje-Williams (2005) Yoruba religious textiles. Ibadan: BookBuilders.

Gillow, J. (2012) African Textiles Colour and Creativity Across a Continent. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

eds. Simmonds, D, Oyelola, P and Oke Segun (2016) Adire Cloth in Nigeria.

Websites

Adire African Textiles

British Museum

Gallery of African Art 

The Horniman Museum

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Yoruba

Yoruba Birthday Greetings – Kú ọjọ́ ìbí and Ẹ kú ọjọ́ ìbí

I will post a follow up to my first Yoruba Blues post on Monday. Today I’m enjoying birthday celebrations and sending a big thank you for all my lovely birthday greetings.

I’m spending a lot of my time around Yoruba people, because of their history and relationship with àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. I’m trying my best to understand, not just the language but how the language is used. My birthday greeting was given to me in two ways. The first one, “Kú ọjọ́ ìbí” by people of a similar age and the second, “Ẹ kú ọjọ́ ìbí” by people who were younger. I’m also learning the morning, afternoon and evening greetings and it’s fascinating and wonderful how respect for elders is reinforced through the language.

A big thank you to Yemi,  Mayowa and Abosede for helping me navigate the beauty and subtlety of Yoruba language.

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The Yoruba Blues – Introduction

For my 21st birthday, I treated myself to a piece of indigo dyed fabric. It has been washed too many times to count and the dye, although still strong has acquired the beautiful variegated patina of age. Years later I discovered it was a Nigerian Yoruba indigo dyed textile using a starch resist technique called àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. This fabric provides the initial inspiration for my indigo research and my desire to explore my personal connection with Jamaica’s indigo plantations and Yoruba indigo textiles.

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This part of my research has been made possible through a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship under the Crafts and Makers category. The award has been made in partnership with the Heritage Crafts Association, the advocacy body for traditional crafts. The fellowship has enabled me to travel to South Western Nigeria to research Yoruba àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko pattern making.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust is the UK’s national memorial to Winston Churchill. Each year the Trust awards Travelling Fellowship grants to UK citizens in a range of fields to enable Churchill Fellows to carry out research projects overseas. These projects are designed to exchange ideas and best practice, and build greater understanding between peoples and different cultures.

My travels start in Lagos and from there I head to Abeokuta, Ibadan, Osogbo, Ogbomosho and Olusun-Ota. I’m meeting indigo dyers, artisans and academics along the route. Please follow my Nigerian travels and keep a look out for talks and workshops when I return to the UK.

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Jamaica & Indigo

In 1672 a Jamaican land survey recorded sixty indigo plantations with many concentrated in the parish of Clarendon along the Rio Minho River.  Under British rule, these plantations were cultivated by enslaved Africans from ethnic groups including Igbo Akan, Fon, Yoruba, Efik, Bantu and Moko people. Many arrived with indigo cultivation skills coming from cultures with rich traditions of indigo dyed textiles, traditionally woven and patterned to reflect African identity. Within slavery, Africans were forced to grow indigo commercially and were denied their cultural and creative connection with the dye. 

As the enslaved outnumbered their owners the plantation system was dependent on suppressing, erasing and subjugating the African identity to avoid and minimise the risk of resistance. Plantation owners prevented their enslaved building family links with bonds of kinship, especially to Africa and other Africans, disconnecting them from their culture and history and denying African spirituality and heritage. The process could last up to three years and was called ‘seasoning’.

My MA research explores this lost African heritage through natural indigo dyed cotton paper and fabric and embroidery, drawing inspiration from Yoruba indigo dyed starch resist textiles known as àdìrẹ ẹlẹ́ko. 

If you are in London come and see my show. There are three days left for the show Lots to see, probably over 150 shows! Fine art, textiles, graphic design communication, curating and interior and spatial design.

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Are you the next artist in residence at the William Morris Gallery

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As a former artist in residence at the William Morris Gallery I highly recommend this residency.  My tenure at the gallery was so rewarding. 

I’ve always been passionate about William Morris’s work after learning about him at school and when I heard about the residency I felt my work with indigo was a good fit. Indigo was Morris’ favourite colour and his extensive work with natural dyes fascinated me. The residency is a perfect opportunity to take his work and use it as a platform for your own ideas.

The exposure from my time as a resident introduced me to different ways to explore my creative practice and I made great contacts. The gallery staff are so supportive they will work with the selected artist(s) to identify specific development needs and can offer curatorial support and support engaging with the local community, but also marketing, fundraising skills, even product development.  There’s an artist’s fee and a budget of up to £2000 for associated costs. 

It’s also a wonderful space to be situated. I always find something new in their permanent displays, their temporary exhibitions are exciting, the cafe serves very nice coffee  and you can take your breaks in Lloyd Park another great source of inspiration. I cannot recommend applying enough! 

Click here for more information