There’s a thematic sense of ritual flowing through SOMArt’s “The Indigo Project.”
The group art exhibition focusing on the cultural and spiritual significance of the purple-flowered plant, an important source of dye in Africa, opened Dec. 9 at the San Francisco cultural center. It was co-curated by artist Bushmama Africa, a priestess in African Traditional Religion, and Isha Rosemond, an artist who founded the Black Freedom Fellowship, which supports Black “creators to embody their vitality on intellectual, spiritual and physical levels.”
“I feel like I’ve been holding a bubble in my heart for three years and it gets to burst tonight — full of love, joy and happiness,” Bushmama said at the opening reception.
“This was a spiritual assignment that was given to me by my ancestors in October of 2017,” said Bushmama, who was sitting under a tree in the Congo when she was moved to create the exhibition.
What came of that calling was a curation of sound and video from prayer circles that led to denim, cotton and indigo works comprising a world of blue-hued and textured art.
“In Africa before colonization …. all the dynasties wore indigo and they had their own print that signified each dynasty,” said Bushmama. “This show is a honoring those people…. “
Another goal of “The Indigo Project” is to make people of the African diaspora feel respected and inspired. “I want audiences to learn about the contributions Africans have had on indigo, cotton and denim industries,” said Bushmama. “I want them to know that we worked, sometimes to death. I want them to see our style and grace beyond the time of slavery. I want our dignity shown and [for people to see how] our creativity continues to live within us.”
Among the pieces on view are Ashara Ekundayo’s “Yeye’s Fingerprint,” a vivid digital photo of indigo-colored hands; and Stephen Hamilton’s large tapestries “Awon Iya Alaye: The Owners of The Earth” and “The ram enters with its head…the eagle killed three times and emerges radiant.” Both are made with dyes, wood, muslin and bright indigo acrylic paint.
Bryan Keith Thomas contributes several works to the show. The standout is “Daddy’s Little Girls,” a display of cotton gifted to Thomas with several topsy turvy dolls: two-headed and two- bodied dolls sewn conjoined at the waist within a double-sided dress. Describing how the dolls were purchased from plantation and estate collection auctions, he says, was like “calling the ancestors back home.”
Bushmama also has pieces in the show featuring Black dolls imbued with spiritualism. One placard reads, “The dolls were anointed and prayed over before they were dressed.”
‘“The Indigo Project” continues through Feb. 5, 2023 at SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St., San Francisco. Admission is free; visit SOMArts.org.