Ignite talk - Kibibi Ajanku

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Video: “Indigo Magic” by Kibibi Ajanku (Maryland Institute College of Art), an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA. Published on Jun 30, 2016

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Kibibi Ajanku, Maryland Institute College of Art


I am Kibibi Ajanku. I am a performing artist, but I'm also an MFA candidate at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and what I've done is bring all that I am into one place through curatorial practice.

My forte is traditional African dance and drum. Indigo is in itself magic. It's magical because it does these things that they just speak to you, call to you. It's magical because it has such a rich and dynamic history that goes in so many directions. You see it in the Tuareg desert people where the men are the ones who wrapped their faces wrapped their heads and use turbans and wrapped their faces in indigo cloth. Calling themselves the blue people, because that protects them.

It's believed that the indigo protects them as they cross the desert. It's magical. The Egyptian Pharaoh had a sail on his ship, and his ship alone that was blue telling people to part the ways, but it gets different, it gets different because indigo was introduced to America by Eliza Pinckney. She needed a new crop, and that cash crop was indigo, bringing slavery and changing the waterways and changing the commodity.

Well indigo magic is an exhibition, because I'm in an art school, and that is my thesis study. It's an exploration of indigenous content, and the way it shows up in African American art forms. It uses indigo as a lens to focus on the connections between Africa and the Americas. As a color, as a dye, as a commodity, indigo has had fast impact on art and culture worldwide, and it suggests and dignifies connections to so many different places: India, Egypt, mummies, you know it's just magical magical, and it's got this mystique.

It’s been used as medicine. It's been used through history and shown up in so many ways even in Europe. The Warriors it was called the Warriors herb, because the Warriors painted their faces believing that that blue hue would protect them in battle.

Indigo magic it's a group show. Envision a collection of works, a collection that is blue not necessarily in color, but a collection that is blue in spirit, as well. The artists have been chosen because a steeped in a regal majestic blue. Their work is, their visions of indigo maybe as a trade commodity or strong African content.

The artists include Ernest Kromah. He is a living legacy. He is the oldest of these, and he has much work that is inspired by his travel to Africa.

Larry Poncho Brown. He is one of the most renowned artists, but has much work that also inspired by his travel to Africa. This piece right there has people pointing, and moving in the path of indigo.

Karen McAdoo Clark also inspired by her journey to Africa, now an excellent potter, but now hand builds, and does things that are right there steeped in her journey to Africa.

Karen Buster. These visions were hers before she ever visited the continent of Africa, and once she got there she found out that what had been coming through her was actually what she would see when she arrived.

This photographer has indigo all the way there. These are indigo cakes processed in Africa. That is the site of a village where indigo is dyed, and then in a marketplace where indigo is sold.

Sankofa Dance Theater with newly commissioned work entitled indigo magic will be part of the experience, because I believe that you need to bring people into museums not only by the art on the wall, but also by interacting with people, and having public programs.

This Baltimore Girls. It’s runway upcycled denim, so you take old stuff, and you make it new again, and make it funky, fly.

Tie dye workshops so that young people can touch, and the experience, and feel it not only through them their breath, their heart, their mind, their body, their spirit, and take a little something home as well.

Gallery talks with some of Baltimore's own professionals. Chezia Strand does humanistic studies, examples of indigo tradition through her writing. Kokahvah Selassie work experience how African art shows up in Toni Morrison work, and then the last was Mr. Bingham who has a vast collection of indigo, and African artifacts.

So the place is the Frederick Douglass Isaac Myers museum, because indigo has been such a trade commodity, this museum sits on the pier that slaves were brought into. It sits on the pier where Frederick Douglass and Isaac Myers both experienced Baltimore in a new and different kind of way, experienced America in a new and different kind of way, just as indigo has changed the lives of many that it’s touched.