Celebrated indigo artist Aboubaka Fofana visited Los Angeles over the summer. A small group of us had the opportunity to join him at UCLA's Fowler Museum for a talk on his recent work. 

Aboubakar describes himself as a social entrepreneur, and his atelier in Mali employs about 100 people. He speaks about the philosophy of school: where one goes to learn to be a better human. Where one trains to use one's imagination. "If you have the right reading of nature, you can survive." He approaches his art as though it is a life's work, earned through a lifetime of learning and teaching, to sustain old learnings and the lost traditions of his community. 

"Only take what you need."

Aboubakar sees indigo as more than color - the 12 shades, from the blue of nothingness to ___ If you know the other end of this spectrum, please share with us in the comments below! He understands indigo as poetry, linked to spirituality. 

Installation d'Aboubakar Fofana/Tente moustiquaire/Fleuve Niger/Mali Photo: Courtesy of Aboubakar Fofana

Installation d'Aboubakar Fofana/Tente moustiquaire/Fleuve Niger/Mali Photo: Courtesy of Aboubakar Fofana

When Aboubakar reminds us that it takes one woman one month to spin one kilo of cotton, I am reminded of Frau Fiber and The Possibility Project and the irrational, destructive waste of our current textile production. If we had any visceral understanding of what it takes to clothe ourselves, we would make more conscientious choices about our consumption (I'd like to believe!).

For the Documenta 14 show, and as part of a social commentary on textile production and dye-ing, Aboubakar dunked 54 sheep in vats of indigo - representing the 54 countries of Africa. Each sheep was first gently shampooed and massaged to remove their grease. He then  "installed" the sheep in an orchard, culminating in a casual walk to his gallery. After two months, the sheep were sheared and their wool woven. The resulting textiles will inform a subsequent project.

"We must learn how to live together and how to share our things."

Indigo is related to African slavery and people exploiting people. Indigo was the main cash crop, before tobacco, rice, and cotton. It is universal, appearing across continents.

Photo: François Goudier

Photo: François Goudier