Indigo Textiles at SAM a Matter of Personal Humility

Last Saturday, the Seattle Art Museum opened an exhibit at the Asian Art Museum called “Mood Indigo: Textiles From Around the World.” The SAM uses its global textile collection of over 100 pieces to tell the story of a color that surrounds humans almost constantly. This exhibit succeeds in creating an intriguing atmosphere with textiles from all corners of the globe by showcasing the unique beauty and history of the textile’s home through the use of indigo.

Artists Norbert Herber and Rowland Ricketts open the exhibition with an installation. Located in a circular room surrounded by dried indigo leaves attached to the walls, their work introduces the exhibit and visitors immediately drawn to the sensuousness of their art. The smell of the room is mesmerizing—dried indigo smells sweet and earthy, like a dry summer day. There is also a noise in the background, which Herber has methodically included to allow a greater understanding of indigo creation process. In fact, the whole room allows the viewer to explore with three of their senses: sight, sound and smell.

“The color is kind of the endpoint. It’s about the historical knowledge that’s embodied in the process,” Ricketts said.

Natural indigo is a demanding dye that became very popular in Japan and spread to the rest of the world. According to a press release by SAM, some Japanese dyers caution that maintaining the process of creating indigo dye is as difficult as raising a child and that success is not a matter of skill, but a matter of personal humility.

“Blue sets a tone; it can conjure up states of melancholy, expressions of vitality, or the mystique of unknown depths,” Pamela McClusky, SAM’s Curator of Art of Africa and Oceania said at a press conference on Friday.

The exhibit continues with textiles that present the idea of sleeping with art. Heavy Japanese nightgowns that look similar to kimonos, with radiant blue coloring and symbols woven onto the chest and arms for protection kept the wearer warm during colder seasons and can be seen throughout the space.

In the next room European, Indian and American art are on display. The beauty of these pieces lies in the small amount of indigo used. The indigo pops perfectly from the stitching and illuminates each piece.

Most eye-catching in the room are the three massive tapestries by Jacob van der Borcht. These pieces illustrate the mystical ideas Europeans associated with Africa, Asia and America in the seventeenth century. They each picture a beautiful woman draped in indigo clothing, surrounded by plentiful fruits.

The exhibition continues with art from different parts of Africa, as well as more Asian textiles. It is interesting to see the way the designs and styles change depending on the origin of the piece. Many of the designs include symbols of strength, protection and blessings from different cultures.

“It is conceptually very spectacular and very geometric and abstract because the works are so dynamic and different,” said Xiaojin Wu, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art.

The SAM’s goal with the exhibition is to honor the ability of the color blue to create many moods in cloth. The art museum succeeded in doing just that by taking the viewer through the historic scope and multiple meanings of indigo, including an array of different styles and cultural themes. The exhibition will be open in the Asian Art Museum until Oct. 9.

Tess may be reached at towen@su-spectator.com

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