The Magic that is Indigo

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The Group Exhibition Indigo Magic reviewed by Angela N. Carroll

There’s something magical about the color blue. Blue energy. The blues. The color’s varied shades and moods have been the muse of countless poets, musicians, novelists, scholars, and visual artists. Betty Carter’s Afro Blue, Miles’ Kind of Blue, Ellington’s Mood Indigo, Joni’s Blue, Davis’ Blues Women, Baraka’s Transbluesency, Sanchez’s A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, the ever present blue of Bearden’s collages, and countless other masterpieces have been inspired by this color.

The South is ripe with magic which traveled north and west with migrating families in search of equal opportunities. I grew up hearing my aunts and grandmother talk about indigo children – blacks born with a “veil,” the placenta, stretched over their faces. A veiled birth prophesied the powers and influence the child would have in the world. My aunts played Bobby “Blue” Bland and B.B. King, baked cakes and pies from scratch, or smoked cigarettes on the stoop while recounting these tales. My grandmother was an indigo child. I would hover over her shoulder asking questions as she fried catfish and hush puppies. She told me that our lineage has always been outsiders, working through the ever shifting blue times, conjuring beauty out of sorrow, art out of ether. Indigo is in my blood.


All of these memories came back to me when I walked through Indigo Magic: An Exhibition of Art Forms, Kibibi Ajanku’s thesis exhibition for the MICA’s Curatorial Practice MFA Program.

Installed at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum, Indigo Magic is an immersive collection that spans ancient and futurist visions of the African diaspora. The exhibit features original ceramics, paintings, stained glass, and textiles from veteran and emerging Baltimore artists: Larry Poncho Brown, Karen Y. Buster, Ursula Cain-Jordan, Carren Clarke-McAdoo, Maurice Evans, Maria Theresa Fernandez, Espi Frazier, Winston Harris, E. Lyle Henderson, LaToya Hobbs, Jimi King, Grace Kisa, Theresa Reuter, Ernest Shaw, Jr., Sherry Shine, Jeffery Weatherford, and Jerome White. Each of the works featured in the exhibition incorporates indigo as a chroma and a conceptual framework.

Ajanku describes the collection as, “Blue… not necessarily in color, but definitely in spirit… Not because it is melancholy or sad in any way. On the contrary, the collection is majestic.”

During the opening reception, Anjanku gave a talk about the history and influence of indigo throughout the world. Centuries of empires have praised and coveted indigo as a commodity and talisman. Indigo Magic is an epic love poem admiring the color’s legacy.

All ritual requires sacrifice: your tears, genuine words. I wanted to invoke the indigo of legend that inspired the exhibition. I positioned myself in the center of the gallery and slowly started to turn. I became a top, a whirling dervish, turning round and round in conscious observance of all the works that composed the show. Clarifying revelations emerged from each revolution. I broke the turning to walk towards the works that spoke to me.


Standing in front of Ernest Shaws’ “Blues for Mr. Charlie,” an indigo and mustard tinged portrait of James Baldwin, was like coming home. A young Baldwin looks tensely over his shoulder in the foreground of a golden sunrise, his hair and face drip blue. Abstract scribbles intersect and dribble down the frame, a familiar motif of Shaw’s portraiture. I wondered what made Baldwin turn back, his expression defiant and piercing in spite of the weeping blue.


Latoya Hobb’s “Inner Glow,” is a beautiful wood cut of a young woman peering through a galaxy of stars. She is an expressionless constellation. A haunting glow beaming beyond the galaxy into viewers souls. She wears the universe as a tapestry, an interstellar skin – simultaneously distinct and affixed to the system of stars that illuminate her form.


Karen Buster’s “Senegal Woman #1 in Indigo” and “Six Yards of Indigo,” giclee on canvas, are stunning. Dozens of tiny glyphs compose women as stark white patterned contours. The contours overlay deep indigo textures. “Six Yards of Indigo” maps a stenciled portrait of ornately clad women folding cloth onto a densely textured indigo underlay. “Senegal Woman #1 in Indigo,” incorporates a similar superimposition, focusing on a woman resplendently cloaked in tapestry against an indigo and ivory print.

Only the shadows and highlights of the women’s faces are textureless. The overlapping ornamentation recalls African textile designs. Repositioning the women as traditional emblems within the textiles they weave and adorn complicates the delineations between sacred and banal. The traditional chores assigned to women are celebratorily memorialized in a style popularized by West African tapestries.


Carren Clarke-McAdoo’s installation, “Tukki Bu Diss/The Travel is Deep,” is a marvel. Twelve indigo tinged Afro-humanoid fiber masks float above ceramics striated by shades reminiscent of sand and sea. Though all of the faces are rendered as female, only two masks stoically stare out beyond the blue; the eyes of all the others remain closed to the world around them. The masks are wonderfully life-like. Clarke-McAdoo skillfully incorporates distinctly intricate hairstyles and scarification for the faces. The women are guardians eternally transfixed in undefinable realms.

These are just a few of the many expertly executed works in the show. As a whole, Indigo Magic is an ambitious and beautiful collaboration, traversing the historical mythology, mystique, and magic of indigo.


Author Angela N. Carroll is an artist-archivist; a purveyor and investigator of contemporary culture.

Indigo Magic will be on display through July 28th at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum.

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