Ahmedabad has a new museum, and it’s dedicated to a shade of blue

SHAHNAZ SIGANPORIA, Vogue, February 11, 2019

The museum space has long stood as an institution that preserves and parades those integral cultural, historical, scientific or artistic moments of significance. While it does chronicle, it also becomes a sort of social marker—and recently with the launch of ‘Alchemy’, the Arvind-Indigo Museum’s inaugural collection of ‘Indigo art objects’, indigo (the dye) gets an instant elevation. Of course, we’re used to seeing indigo on textiles in stores, on the runway and even in some museums, for that matter—but chairman and managing director of Arvind Ltd Sanjay Lalbhai envisions a big future for this indigenous dye, a way of giving back to the material that paved the way for his own success. He says, “Arvind Ltd was reinvented because of this dye. If we hadn’t gotten into denim when we did, we would have faced the same fate as so many textile mills. (With this museum, we want to) reinvent and dramatically extend the magic of indigo. It’s a unique experiment to extend the vocabulary of indigo as a brand.”

How do you extend indigo as a brand?

One look at the launch collection and this extension becomes clear: yes, there can be fine textiles and craftParesh Patel uses natural indigo yarn to create a stunning Ashavali brocade, master craftsman Asif Shaikh innovated with zardozi on an indigo-dyed pashmina, etc. As we walk around the exhibit, Lalbhai explains, “Imparting indigo on various materials has never been done before—we have failed more than we’ve succeeded, but that is the process.” And so Arvind Ltd decided to co-create these art objects with a cross-section of multidisciplinary artists and experts in their own rights—from canvas and concrete to metal and even old vinyl records, the diversity of material in the first exhibit is hard to ignore.

One of the most challenging innovations came about when artist Manish Nai—who is renowned for his dyed, knotted and collaged installations, made of textile, wood and metal—made up his mind that his work would use indigo-dyed aluminium. The only catch, aluminium had never been infused with indigo dye before. But this is the entire point behind the Indigo museum—and so after a gruelling seven-month-long process of trial and error at the Arvind Ltd Laboratory, Nai says, “I have been working with aluminium as a medium for almost 10 years. The fact which Arvind Indigo Museum found interesting is that aluminium has a capability to absorb indigo dye, and they provided me with the required facilities to execute this.” The outcome? They not only found a way to infuse aluminium with indigo, but also patented the process, and Nai’s artistic vision was seen through.

From Gregor Hildebrandt, who chronicles the analogue using indigo-dyed VHS tape and vinyl, to Alwar Balasubramanium, whose work occupies a room of its own transporting you into near-abstract indigo landscapes, there any many inspirations to focus on. But it was Nalini Malani’s massive canvas ‘Teller Of Tales’, which incorporates indigo along with acrylic, ink and enamel, that has inspired Arvind Ltd to now start experimenting with the indigo dye in itself, to create an entire colour palette from indigo for their next collection.

What lies ahead?

Lalbhai’s vision is ambitious, to create the country’s “single largest Indigo art-objects repository”. And while he has begun with a stunning first collection, which is on display at the Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum in Ahmedabad and brings together some of the leading names of Contemporary art with his state-of-the-art indigo laboratory, the picture only gets bigger in the future. Next is the stand-alone museum within their Naroda facility, which is being built by architect Stephane Paumier of S.P.A Design. Artist residencies, consistent collections and collaborations are all in the pipeline. Their aim is to make indigo relevant today, and hope that this ricochets from artist and lab to manufacturer and farmer. Lalbhai explains, “This isn’t about money, but about creating something unique and putting Indian crafts on a global platform.”

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