Celebrating the Timeless Appeal of Indigo

Gregor Hilderbrandt. Untitled, 2018. Courtesy of Galerie Isa

January 9, 2019

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Opening its inaugural exhibition on January 25, Ahmedabad’s highly anticipated Arvind Indigo Museum promises to tell the incredible story of indigo — a natural dye which holds a special place in India’s history 

Red, yellow and blue. Of the three primary colours, blue is considered to be the rarest because it is the hardest to produce naturally. Early civilisations discovered that the only way to generate a vibrant blue was from indigo dye. Found in plants native to specific regions in Asia and Africa, this pigment has been used for centuries in textile production and heritage crafts.

The use of natural indigo saw a sudden decline with the invention of synthetic dyes in the late 19th century, which were adopted by textile manufacturers to colour fabrics artificially and cheaply. More recently, however, the Indian textile market has seen an indigo revival, thanks to the efforts of the Lalbhai family, which has worked with the dye at Arvind Mills in Ahmedabad since the late 1980s. Committed to pushing the conversation around natural dyes forward, they are now setting up a 15,000 square foot  museum in their home city to celebrate indigo — which, like a good pair of jeans, remains classic, even as it constantly evolves and matures.

Why indigo?

Indigo has always been associated with India, and that story is hugely compelling. Its very name — derived from the Greek indikon, meaning ‘from India’ — reveals a tie with our country that is centuries old.

What’s the story of Arvind Indigo Museum?

Arvind was the first business to produce denim in India back in 1987, and indigo was the dye that made this entire journey possible. Sanjay Lalbhai, who led the company at the time, had the idea to set up a museum that celebrates the colour that has been India’s unique gift to the world. The Arvind Indigo Museum will host its first exhibition titled ALCHEMY at the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum from 25 January onwards, inviting contemporary artists and artisans to experiment with indigo in new and innovative ways. An expansive, dedicated space is set to follow later this year which will become the collection’s permanent home.

Alwar Balasubramaniam. Untitled, 2018. Courtesy of Talwar Gallery

Over three generations, the Lalbhai family has supported a number of Ahmedabad’s most iconic cultural institutions, including the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum and the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum. The Arvind Indigo Museum will join these, further enriching the city’s cultural landscape and showcasing an eclectic mix of modern and contemporary works. The museum will be open to all and entrance will be free. Facilities will include a dedicated shop and café, and visitors will be invited to take time to create their own sketches in response to the works on display.

What are the highlights?

Some stellar contemporary artists have been commissioned to create works that respond to indigo’s history and its characteristic blue colour – from established names, including Alwar Balasubramaniam, G. R. IrannaManisha Parekh, Nalini Malani, Amit Ambalal, Sheetal GhattaniUmang HutheesingPandit Khairnar, to exciting young talent including Manish Nai, Tanya Goel, Sachin Tekade, Nibha SikanderBhagyashree Suthar, Meesha Holley, Swapnil Pandeya, Kavin Mehta and Vyom Mehta. A fantastic line up of international artists have also been invited to exhibit, with works on display by Annie Morris, Based UponShola CarlettiChristian Achenbach, Alicia KwadeGregor Hildebrandt, and Victoria Andrejeva, amongst others. These works will all become part of the museum’s permanent collection. In addition, well-known artisans and designers from around the country, such as Asif Shaikh, Paresh Patel and Hansika Sharma, will be showcasing their own engagement with indigo. This unique space will give equal focus to heritage crafts and contemporary art practices.

What else can I do in Ahmedabad?

Ahmedabad is home to a number of unique museums. The Calico Museum is a great place to view the rich heritage of Indian textiles; the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum has a fantastic display of Bengal School art, and the Lalbhai Dalpatbhai Museum has some rare bronzes and manuscripts. Many also flock to the city to see its historical architecture, from Mughal monuments to modernist buildings. Highlights include Husain ki Gufa, an underground art gallery designed by architect B.V. Doshi to exhibit the works of M.F. Husain; the Gandhi Memorial Museum, designed by Charles Correa; the ATMA House by Le Corbusier; the stunning Indian Institute of Management (IIM) campus, designed by Louis Khan, and the outstanding National Institute of Design (NID).

Coming to India Art Fair? Plan your visit to Ahmedabad to catch the opening of the Arvind Indigo Museum’s inaugural exhibition ALCHEMY, and a host of cultural attractions across the city 

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