Art Installations – INDIGO : THE BLUE GOLD

Oxygenated Blue, 2018

32 strips of indigo dyed khadi fabric (28 at 16 inches and 4 at 4 inches each), 72 x 96 inches

This abstract installation of water composed of tiered strips of indigo dyed khadi fabric across a range of saturations. In the indigo dying process, fabric is dipped into a fermented vat of green colored indigo plant biomass steeped in water. When the fabric is lifted from the dye and exposed to air, the green color instantly turns blue. This process is called “Oxidation” – aeration “dimerizes the indoxyl molecules” resulting in the insoluble lightfast blue indigo dye. The raw materials of this installation are politically loaded with indigo symbolizing the British colonization of the Indian subcontinent and hand-spun khadi’s close association with Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement of self-reliance and the Indian freedom struggle. Oxygenated Blue was originally titled Lunar Swell: Civilization and Collective Forces and was part of Jyoti’s 2018 exhibition Bound by Duty: An idea of Swaraj and Collectiveness at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi.

Homage to the Farmers of Champaran 1917-18, 2009

300 textile discs, ajrakh printing, dye on khadi fabric, installation size variable

This installation is part of Jyoti’s Indigo Narratives series that toured across India and the U.S. from 2009-2018 in Indigo: New Works by Shelly Jyoti & Laura Kina. The installation references the Champaran Satyagraha rebellion of farmers who protested being forced to grow indigo cash crops for the British Raj. This was Gandhi’s first satyagraha on Indian soil following his return from South Africa. Jyoti’s use of traditional master artisans to produce her contemporary art works, along with her use of ajrakh block print resist and natural indigo dye on khadi fabric, and her focus on histories such as the farmers of Champaran are part of her commitment to “celebrating the subaltern.” Each circle pays homage to the multiple voices of “farmers who died unsung, and unheard.”

An Ode to Nil Darpan, 2023

Video (4:10 min.)

Jyoti’s multimedia poetry performance poem draws inspiration from Dinabandhu Mitra’s 1858–1859 Bengali play “Nil Darpan: The Indigo Planting Mirror” about the eco-political exploitation by the British colonizers in the early 19th century in Bihar and Bengal. Her poem is about the first national freedom movement in Champaran led by Gandhi in 1917-1918 and reflects on the ongoing struggles of farmers today. The video includes footage of her 2009 Homage to the Farmers of Champaran 1917-18 installation at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Sea Voyage, 2013
36 pieces of constructed sails from khadi fabric with gold Pali text wood block print, cotton threads, installation size variable

Ship sails made from khadi fabric are featured in this installation, which was a central artwork in Jyoti’s 2013 solo show Salt: The Great March that first opened at IGNCA Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi. Salt refers to Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha. From March to April 1930, protestors marched on foot some 240 miles from Gujarat to the coast of the Arabian Sea to fight against oppressive salt taxes. The sails are printed with an unknown gold Pali text–a 3rd Century BCE middle Indo-Aryan vernacular language from Northern India closely associated with Theravada Buddhism.

This installation was also installed at the India International Centre, IIC, New Delhi (2014); Dakshina Chitra Museum, Chennai (2014); and Azad Bhavan Gallery, Indian Council of Cultural Relations ICCR, New Delhi (2015).

Ajrakh Pattern Blocks

From the studio of master craftsmen Juned Ismail Mohamed Khatri, Ajrakhpur, Bhuj, Gujarat, circa 1988. 

The block pattern featured on  this sampler is a 300–400-year-old design similar to a 500-year-old Kutch-made block fragment excavated in Egypt in Fustat, the former capital and Cairo’s first Islamic settlement.