Thursday, 24 April 2014

Malian textile designer Aboubakar Fofana

I have been in the mood for blue or indigo home accessories, mainly textiles. Every time I leaf through a magazine these days I seem to search for these colours for inspiration. One morning, while enjoying my latte, I was reminded of Malian textile designer Aboubakar Fofana and his gorgeous indigo textiles, which are naturally and sustainably produced.

Aboubakar Fofana was born in 1967 in Bamako in Mali and has spent most of his life in France. When he returned to Mali from France he realised that the tradition of naturally dyeing with indigo was at risk of being forgotten, so he tracked down the old masters to learn from them. Thanks to Fofana their skills - using natural indigo and vegetable dyeing - has been preserved. Later he received a grant to study with Japanese master dyer Akiyama Masakazu. It was in Japan that he worked on and refined his techniques.

He now divides his time between Bamako, where he has an atelier, Paris and Tokyo, and travels all over the world, sharing his skills and knowledge. He is a calligrapher as well, he studied the art in Japan.

The green leaves of the indigo plant produce a range of blue shades, both light and dark, which are clearly visible in Fofana's work. In the below image you see a naturally dyed indigo silk scarf. The top image shows a cloth being dipped into a natural indigo vat. First it comes out green until exposed to air, which enables it to slowly gain its indigo colour by oxidation. (If this is something that interests you then perhaps you want to read Indigo: In Search of the Colour that Seduced the World by Catherine E. McKinley.)

Each item in Aboubakar Fofana's collections is made with natural materials, combining West African craft and contemporary design. Fofana's production is sustainable, he uses no chemicals that harm the environment. He uses organic materials and fibres, preferably organic Malian cotton, spun and woven by hand. He is both the weaver and dyer, using Malian and Japanese techniques. Besides working with indigo he also works with Malian traditional Bogolan mud-cloth dye.

There is a mystical and a spiritual element to his work, where West African and Japanese cultures meet. He talks about this in an interview with Selvedge magazine:
He … likens the approach to natural indigo dyeing in Japan and west Africa as remarkably similar considering the physical distance separating the cultures. 'Japanese culture has Shinto and west Africa animism; they are exactly the same … In west Africa you say a prayer to the indigo gods to bless a new born indigo vat, in Japan you offer sake to the indigo god to bless a new vat,' he explains of the rituals that inform the process. (Jessica Hemmings)

photo credit:
1, 6-9: Lauren Barkume Photography / 2-3: François Goudier via Atelier Courbet / 4-5: via Selvedge


  1. I am enchanted by this article, Lisa! Indigo is one of my favorite hues and I have bookmarked your post for more profound reading later tonight. Plus I have wishlisted the book you recommend. And this artist - I am thrilled! Wow, wow, wow! Thank you for this inspiration!

  2. I love this blog post, Lisa! Someone who wants to preserve a tradition and travels the world to teach it to others... It's wonderful when we get to learn how many craftsmen there still are in this world of ours. And those natural blue shades, the are beautiful, absolutely beautiful!

  3. Indigo is definitely inspiring! Thanks for the wonderful comments.

  4. Love the natural indigo dyeing process... but also , the ceramics halfway down the images are absolutely gorgeous!:)


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