Shelly Jyoti – Indigo: The “Blue Gold”
From plantation, trade, to migration, forced labor, and colonization
South Asia Institute
July 22-December 16, 2023
Curated by Laura Kina
Private opening reception: Friday July 21, 2023
1925 S. Michigan
Chicago, IL 60616
The South Asia Institute is honored to present New Delhi-based Indian contemporary artist and textile designer Shelly Jyoti’s first solo museum exhibition in the United States. Shelly Jyoti – Indigo: The Blue Gold is a mid-career retrospective of Jyoti’s investigation into the 18–19th century colonial trade of natural indigo dye. Known as the “King of Dyes,” “Devil’s Dye,” and “Blue Gold,” indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) in the Indian subcontinent can be traced back to 2nd millennium BCE. As our exhibition contributor Barbara Hanson Forsyth explains, “Indigofera originated in Africa more than 150 million years ago and then spread to India where it was first cultivated for use as a dye.” Different varieties of true indigo (not to be confused with European woad) are grown around the world with the earliest known uses of indigo dye dating back 6,000 years ago in Peru. Jyoti’s exhibition focuses specifically on indigo’s long history from several perspectives, including global trade, forced labor, slavery, and indentured labor, migration, and colonization in terms of India’s colonial history.
The exhibition features over forty new artworks along with a selection of Jyoti’s installations, poetry, drawing, fashion, and textiles from the past decade including her signature “Indigo Narratives” series, which traveled extensively across the US and India from 2009–2018. Jyoti’s art uses recurring iconographic symbols including Gandhi’s spinning wheel, fish, and ships to tell the story of indigo. Since 2009, Jyoti, has been creating contemporary hand spun woven khadi textile works utilizing traditional indigo dye and ajrakh (Arabic: blue) reverse block printing techniques that trace back to ancient Indus Valley Civilization (3,300–1,300 BCE). Jyoti’s original textile art is produced in the studios of master craftsmen Juned Ismail Mohamed Khatri, son of the legendary Dr. Ismail Mohamed Khatri, in Ajrakhpur, Bhuj, Gujarat.
– Laura Kina, curator and Vincent de Paul Professor, The Art School, DePaul University