If India were a colour, it would be indigo. The course of the nation is woven together with the natural dye, much like a warp and weft—the dye is extracted from a plant native to this soil, was once coveted by traders as blue gold, and stirred the first satyagraha movement of 1917.
Indigo thus holds an indelible place in the history of Indian design and textiles, which is among the reasons why a forthcoming museum in Ahmedabad is dedicated to it. The man behind the museum is industrialist Sanjay Lalbhai, chairperson and MD of Arvind Ltd, a textile manufacturing company known for its denims. He is locating the Arvind-Indigo Museum at the company’s facility in Naroda, where they rolled out the first metres of denim in the late 1980s. “Arvind got reinvented because of indigo and denim, or we would have faced the same fate as other mills in the city," says Lalbhai.
The Naroda building is being refurbished to hold the museum but a curtain-raiser exhibition, Alchemy, opens to the public this week at the existing family-run Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum, also in Ahmedabad. It brings together a number of works made by artists and artisans in collaboration with Lalbhai and his team. The artists include Umang Hutheesing, G.R. Iranna, Nalini Malani, Tanya Goel and Manish Nai, and the works will shift to the museum later this year.
Malani’s triptych, The Teller Of Tales, uses a female storyteller, from whose hands words spark across the painting in different shapes and forms. The narrative has three threads, among them the 19th century Neel Bidroho, or Indigo Rebellion of Bengal. “We want to extend this platform to artists and artisans to see how we can impart indigo on materials such as cement or steel or canvas, to see how it changes its hues across media," says Lalbhai.
Alchemy is on from 27 January-31 March at the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum Ahmedabad.