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SOMArts’ ‘Indigo Project’ highlights the importance of blue dye in black communities

Stephen Hamilton, “Awon Iya Alaye: The Owners of The Earth,” 2020. | Image courtesy of the artist

“The Indigo Project,” the newest exhibition at SOMArts, wrests back the narrative of the dark blue dye by centering the Black and Indigenous communities who have been using the plant for thousands of years. 

The indigo plant—whose crushed leaves create the brilliantly hued dye prized for millennia—has been used to color all sorts of garments, but it’s most closely associated with denim. 

Blue jeans continue to occupy an oversized footprint in our cultural legacy, as the recent sale of a $114K pair of Levi’s recovered from a shipwreck make clear, yet denim is most often thought to embody the rugged independence of a mythical, white West. 

The multidisciplinary exhibition, curated by Bushmama Africa and Isha Rosemond, weaves together the stories of indigo, cotton and denim while centering Black voices. The indigo plant was first grown in equatorial climates and introduced to North America only during the colonial era.

Abayomi Anil, "Untitled," 2020 | Image courtesy of the artist.

Africa is an initiated priestess in the African Traditional Religion, and Rosemond is a post-disciplinary artist and founder of the Black Freedom Fellowship. Exhibiting artists include Stephen Hamilton, Abayomi Anli, Bryan Keith Thomas and more.

“I want audiences to learn about the contributions Africans have had on indigo, cotton, and denim industries,” Africa wrote in a statement. “I want them to know that we worked, sometimes to death. I want them to see our style and grace beyond the time of slavery. I want our dignity shown and our creativity continues to live within us.”

The recentering continues work that SOMArts has already begun, like with its “The Black Woman Is God” exhibitions that iterate space to venerate Black women and their creativity. 

The curators are leading an all ages, free denim camp on Jan. 14, giving participants the opportunity to upcycle their own denim wear. 

Indigo Project

📍 SOMArts, 934 Brannan St. 
🗓️ Dec. 10, 2022-Feb. 5, 2023