For Aboubakar Fofana, indigo dyeing is both art and technology: it is alchemy; a communion with God, or nature, or both. He doesn’t just make colour; he grows and nourishes the bacteria that creates it. 

An edited extract from Issue 06
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The world has become bluer – not in terms of sentiment, but in the virtual-aesthetic topography dominated by Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, Twitter, OSX’s Mail and Safari icons and so on; all of whose default colours lie within the same shade. Unsurprising, really, when you consider that blue is the colour of skies and of mystery – both oceanic and celestial – at least according to one man who makes his living
from the strongest of blues: indigo.

Organic indigo dyeing, as it is practised by Aboubakar Fofana, a Frenchman of Malian extraction, is beyond fashion, trend and digitisation, yet remains a technology: a biochemical technology, as Fofana himself puts it, which involves bacteria, water and plants (peculiarly, indigo actually originates in green, in the leaves of the indigofera tinctoria shrub). But it also involves meditative attention.

The process Fofana uses to make shawls, throws and scarves at a painstaking tempo transcends mere manufacture (although it is also
that: the labour of handwork) to become something else for him: a communion with a god who may or may not be the same as nature; a reminder of man’s place in the scheme of all living things; and an alchemy that transmutes green into blue, not to mention the alchemist himself. ‘Evidently, the human isn’t the most important in the system
of nature,’ this leonine, intensely serene man reflects when we meet one
day in Heal’s furniture store in London.

Fofana was born in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and grew up in the suburb of Gennevilliers beyond the north-eastern rim of Paris’s périphérique – and today he offers his wares through high-end outlets around the world, all the while remembering the animist roots of his practice: labour-intensive dyeing raises a smile among the elders back
in Mali, who grumble that the same effect can be achieved easily with synthetic dyes bought cheaply from the market. But Fofana understands the value of practice. In addition to being a technology, he says, ‘It’s an art.’ Something to be marvelled at, cherished and safeguarded. 


Words Kevin Braddock Photographs Jonas Unger