Life & Style

All things bright and indigo: a preview of the upcoming Arvind Indigo Museum

As we approach the sprawling Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum in Ahmedabad, glimpses of indigo-dyed fabric and the murmuration of blue birds crafted from cloth and wire mesh tease us from behind the driveway’s neem canopy. The imposing colonial-style structure is bathed in blue on the bright January morning because Alchemy, the curtain raiser to textile major Arvind Ltd’s latest pet project, the Arvind Indigo Museum, has just opened its doors to the public.

A ‘start-up’ is how Sanjay Lalbhai, Chairman of Arvind, prefers to call it. “We have extended the vocabulary of indigo as a fabric dye and are now showcasing it on materials the world hasn’t seen before: cement, brick, steel, paper, canvas, aluminium. The possibilities are endless,” he says, explaining how they are giving back to the dye that put Arvind on the global map of denim manufacturing. After three months, the exhibition will move to their Naroda facility where the museum will take shape later this year.

Sanjay Lalbhai

Sanjay Lalbhai   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji


It isn’t a coincidence that the museum will be housed in the same building where the first metre of locally-produced denim was crafted in the late 1980s. Recalling how they had been challenged by power looms, Lalbhai says that if they had not explored denim, they would have shut down as many other textile mills had back then. “We faced a lot of criticism when we started; it was a challenge bringing denim into a country where the sari and dhoti were predominant. We owe our reinvention to indigo,” says the 64-year-old industrialist, whose vision is now to extend the dye to all Indian crafts.

Experiments in blue

Housing the work of 20 artists from India and abroad — people whose art he has admired over the last four decades — Alchemy is the result of numerous experiments with the dye. Ideas developed at Arvind over the years were shared with the artists, who were then given tool kits to work with their choice of materials. From papercut art and a framed piece with VHS tapes, to a sandstone installation and wood art, universal applications of the natural dye have been explored.

For Alwar Balasubramaniam (who has seven pieces at Alchemy), indigo’s “beauty lies in how its shade changes over a period of time: when it’s drying or oxidising, it’s almost like it’s living”. The artist from Tamil Nadu, who draws inspiration from wind-swept mountains and rock-strewn rivers, has used moulding, casting and painting techniques for his artwork. “When we showed the artists what can be done with indigo, they realised it is not like other blues. It has diverse applications, and all of them have worked outside their comfort zones,” says Lalbhai, adding, “With the museum, I am not creating awareness, but demand.”

A sculpture in sandstone.

A sculpture in sandstone.   | Photo Credit: Nidhi Adlakha


Expanding the dye’s vocabulary further are artists like Manish Nai, who has crafted an installation with compressed indigo-dyed aluminium, and Kavin Mehta, with an abstract installation in indigo-dyed sandstone. Aboubakar Fofana — whose working mediums include calligraphy, textiles (particularly organic, handspun Malian cotton) and natural dyes — has worked closely with Lalbhai for the museum. At Alchemy, the multidisciplinary artist (born in West Africa, raised in France), who has mastered the technique of fermented indigo dyeing using whole indigo leaves, has brought his technique to glass, cloth and marble.

Mixed mediums

For Mumbai-based papercut artist Nibha Sikander whose intricate kingfisher, moths, beetles and bugs stood out for me, her set of six pieces (30 frames) are a part of an ongoing series that reflects the current environment around her. “I have been working and experimenting with different coloured card paper for the last 15 years, but this particular project fascinated me because I got to use different shades of indigo dyed paper which challenged me to find depth within this singular palate,” says Sikander, 35, who took four months to craft the pieces at Alchemy and is now gearing up for first solo show in October at TARQ, Mumbai. Other artists who explored the same medium were Bhagyashree Suthar (Vadodara) and Pune-based Sachin Tekade.


Alchemy: a curtain raiser to the Arvind Indigo Museum


Annie Morris, known for her stack sculptures of vividly carved coloured spheres of pigment (which have been described as ‘stacks of joy’), has crafted a 280cm long monochromatic sculpture in hues of blues. Made using indigo concrete, plaster, sand and steel, the strategy was to use the form of the sculpture and to paint each shape in a different hue of indigo. “It allowed me to almost deconstruct the colour. No colour is pure it is made up of many. A sum of its parts if you like,” says Morris who was approached by Lalbhai at her London studio to start experimenting with the dye on the surface of her sculptures. And these stacks have a personal journey attached to them: they are born out of the pain of losing a baby. Stricken with grief, Morris took solace in her studio, making these rounds, egg like forms, first in drawings, until they took shape in plaster and pigment. “I see my sculptures as abstract paintings, combining various colours and sizes of the balls stacked on top of one another, balancing as an impossible act,” she says.

Still wave by Alwar Balasubramanium

Still wave by Alwar Balasubramanium   | Photo Credit: Talwar Gallery, New York New Delhi


Ahmedabad-based Kirit Chitra’s Mata Ni Pachedi (also known as the kalamkari of Gujarat) in natural indigo uses natural dyes, jaggery, lime and dates. “Natural indigo is used to colour the background, iron rusted water for the outline and the trademark red shade comes from the madder root and brown from catechu (an extract of the acacia tree),” says Chitra, 28, who took 10 months to complete the painting.

Using the dye with ash and dust is Karnataka-based G.R. Iranna. The sculptor, painter and new media artist’s piece ‘Our leaves’ uses black ash (charcoal powder) and indigo. “While Indigo is an exciting medium, it is equally difficult to handle. My intention was to dwell on the cycle of life: from dust to dust and the leaves are abstract, yet have form.”

Shades of collaboration

Outside of the 54 exhibits, Lalbhai wants to take his experiments to food, interior design and more. The anti-bacterial, edible dye has myriad uses in the food industry and the team at Arvind is open to collaborating with chefs and industry experts to curate indigo menus and pop-ups. So if you, the reader, have any ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out to them. Who knows, you could be the next Willy Wonka with your own indigo food factory.

Alchemy is on till March 31, from 10 am to 5 pm (except Wednesdays and public holidays) at the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum. Details: 079 22865456.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 10:25:35 PM |

Next Story