Indigo was once the most important dye in the world, and the beauty and worldwide range of the textiles in “Mood Indigo” at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) is a stunning testament to that importance. What’s equally stunning is that almost every piece in the show belongs to SAAM’s own collection, some of them never before exhibited here.
“Mood Indigo” begins with a whole room devoted to Mobile Section, an indigo and sound installation by Rowland Ricketts and Norbert Herber. A row of dried indigo plants runs around all the walls while a tall silo of cloths died every shade of blue hangs from the ceiling. Visitors can enter the silo and also set off motion sensors that emit sounds associated with indigo, everything from the chatter of falling seeds to the chromatic sounds of the color spectrum.
In a room devoted to sleeping and wrapping are intricate cloths for wrapping gifts, along with giant kimonos to use as bed covers. Though much of the exhibition features pieces from earlier periods, Anissa Mack’s Broken Star is particularly contemporary: a large wedge of denim stitched with the star quilt pattern as seen from a vanishing perspective, an idea inspired by the opening of Star Wars where those words “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away” appear in the same vanishing configuration.
In the largest room, titled The Blue Globe, hang three enormous tapestries depicting the riches of America, Asia, and Africa. Accompanying them are textiles from those continents, including several pieces from Nigeria where British colonizers sent white cloth to encourage the locals to wear more “civilized” dress. Nigerians responded by using stitch resist and paste resist and many trips to the indigo bath to turn the cloth into intricate vistas of color. In the 1930s, Nigerian women built up an impressive textile industry.
There are many treasures and curiosities from the all indigo costume of ancient Japanese firefighters to the mask and gown of the African spirit figure Basinjom whose role was to seek out negative and selfish people and publicly humiliate them. In a final celebration of indigo wealth, the last room is filled with Japanese kimonos and coats for different seasons, age groups, vocations, and whatever else struck their fancy.
The show continues through October 9; related events include a presentation on the skills of the Ninjas, an evening with textile expert David Paly, and a talk on wax-resist dyeing techniques. For tickets and information, check the website.