The Yorùbá 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 Yorùbá 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 Yorùbá 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 Yorùbá 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 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. 

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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

 

In Fine Style

 

In Fine Style

Like many textile artists I find enjoyment and inspiration in a diverse range of creative expression including music and graphic illustration. Today I popped into the Victoria and Albert Museum to attend a talk, part of their Art and Existence: African and Asian Diaspora Explored series. These talks feature leading external practitioners and are organised by a wonderful lady Janet Browne, Programme Manager Black Heritage and Culture within the V&A’s Learning Department. Contact Janet at the V & A if you want to be added to her mailing list for future events.

Todays speakers were cultural practitioners Christopher Bateman and Al’ Fingers Newman. Their talk was a celebration of the work of Jamaican newspaper cartoonist Wilfred Limonious, (1949-1999).

In the early 1980s Jamaica gave birth to a new musical style called Dancehall. With its origins in the political turbulence of the late 1970s it became the dominant and powerful musical expression and social commentary of the 1980s and ’90s. “This multimodal African diasporic style is also evident in North American hip-hop and the origins of both can be traced to West African performance modes”. (1)

Graphic designer Wilfred Limonious became one of the primary visual architects of this movement.

What an enjoyable way to spend a sunny London afternoon, the talk included music, photographs and some of Wilfred’s illustrated record sleeves and his vibrant cartoons often featuring voluptuous ladies with very slim men and humorous captions. In Jamaica humour is widely used as a mechanism for dealing with hardship. The talk is accompanied by a touring exhibition and coffee table book In Fine Style: the Dancehall Art of Wilfred Limonious. You can catch the exhibition at the Tabernacle, 35 Powis Square, off Portobello Road, London W11 2AY until Sunday 29th May 2016. The book is out on 16 August 2016 published by One Love Books. I’m pleased to say the talk and exhibition will be touring Jamaica in the future. 

(1) Professor Carolyn Cooper’s Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for Dancehall Music

 

 

CIAD Spring Exchange: Clarendon Blues, Explorations in indigo

CLARENDON BLUES (1)I’ve been working on some interesting proposals and have some very exciting news which I’ll share with you soon.
In the meantime I’ve been invited to give a lecture at the next spring exchange of the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora, CIAD which is dedicated to researching the history and culture of clothing and adornment from Africa and the African Diaspora. Their research is disseminated in various forms including the CIAD Exchange lecture series, an exchange of information and ideas over a two hour event, consisting of a one hour lecture followed by networking, discussion and drinks. You can find out more about their research through their website CIAD

My lecture will focus on my ongoing explorations of Yoruba indigo dying practices and my new research of Jamaica’s Georgian indigo plantations.  The event will be held on Friday 8 April 2016 6:30pm – 8:30pm at London College of Fashion, Rootstein Hopkins Space, 20 John Prince’s St, London W1G 0BJ. 5 mins walk from Oxford Circus Tube Station.

Tickets are free but seating in the lecture theatre is limited so booking is essential Book Here

Flora

Flowers are deeply embedded within our lives and have been an inspiration to artists for centuries. Flora is a Welsh touring exhibition curated by the Oriel Davies Gallery, supported by Arts Council of Wales. The exhibition celebrates flowers as a powerful contemporary source of inspiration presenting new and existing work by key national and international artists offering a different perspective on the subject of flowers in art.

The exhibition will be at the Oriel Myddin Gallery in Carmarthen, Wales from 19th September 2015 until 31 October 2015. I will be joining the gallery on Friday 25th September at 6pm and Saturday 26th September 2015 from 11am until 3.30pm to talk about my relationship with the plant indigo and to deliver an indigo dye workshop. If you’ve never been to Carmarthen I highly recommend a visit, it’s a lovely historic town with spectacular sunsets. There are at least five galleries within close proximity of the Oriel Myddin and most offer Collectorplan the Arts Council’s interest-free credit scheme for buying art.  I will confess to surrendering to temptation a few times! For more information on the Flora exhibition see the gallery website  

http://orielmyrddingallery.co.uk

painting on canvas by Emma Bennett

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Through my own textile work I connect with flowers on many different levels, as a source of inspiration but I also use them as natural dyes. I have experimented with many flowing plants to create other colours.  Most of you probably know me for my indigo work but the other part of practice relates to stitch.  I use hand and free motion embroidery mainly to transform textile waste. So staying with the theme of Flora I thought I would share some images from my fun collaboration with the Salvation Army where I reworked some of their old broken hats and textile waste on my millinery blocks and irons into fascinators adding my signature free motion embroidery florals. 

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