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India Pavilion presents an installation focusing on the labour-intensive setting of the production of indigo
State of Indigo. India Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2018. Film Still, courtesy The Colours of Nature.

LONDON.- State of Indigo – presented by the India Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2018 – will immerse viewers in the labour-intensive setting of the production of indigo, a pigment used to dye textiles, repel insects, cure ailments, disinfect, ward off spirits and even to decorate an entire city. The multisensory, immersive installation responds to London Design Biennale’s 2018 theme ‘Emotional States’ for the Biennale’s second edition at Somerset House, and is curated by Priya Khanchandani with the Gujral Foundation as Commissioning Body.

The installation features an archival film displayed across the walls of a Somerset House gallery, which transports viewers to the troughs used in indigo production. Filmed around two decades ago at one of the last farms in India to produce the natural dye, State of Indigo gives an insight into the demanding production methods that have gone largely unchanged for millennia. Workers are shown standing in a line thrashing the water with their outstretched legs, with the film highlighting the hours of hard labour required to produce only a small bar of concentrated dye. Through an emotional experience of this pigment, the installation will enable indigo to be understood more profoundly, by communicating its emotional charge and potency. The film will be accompanied by a sound installation comprising a rhythmic beat, allowing visitors to experience the installation.

The story of indigo is closely aligned with India’s design identity as well as its colonial past, although both these aspects of its history are often overlooked today. As a natural form of dye, indigo is a reminder of the traditional methods of cultivating and processing textiles that were pioneered on the subcontinent. Throughout history the colour has been inseparable from notions of luxury and desire, yet at the same time it has strong links to exploitation. India cultivated indigo in large quantities from the 1600s onwards, and farmers were exploited to grow and produce the dye, known as ‘blue gold’, under colonial rule to cope with rising international demand.

State of Indigo brings these invisible histories to light and reveals indigo to be a highly ideologically loaded design tool, which needs to be asserted as being representative of India’s design identity.

“Although we take cue from the past, the India Pavilion also alludes to significant issues of our time. Since the historic moment we narrate, indigo has been democratised through its use in denim – a product every visitor can relate to – and has become synonymous with the common man. I am delighted to be working with the Gujral Foundation to bring to light the story of a colour that speaks of broader issues about the state of India as a nation; its unspoken labour politics, coloniality and design history”, says Priya Khanchandani.

“In a time of extreme inequality, indigo-stained denim, albeit dyed synthetically today, is an example of how design has transformational qualities and that a luxury item like this pigment can become a ubiquitous and equalising force. It has been fantastic working with Priya to bring this complex issue to a global platform like London Design Biennale”, says Feroze Gujral.

State of Indigo follows India’s successful 2016 presentation Chakraview at the inaugural edition of London Design Biennale. The 2018 edition of the Biennale will include design installations from 40 countries, cities and territories from six continents. It celebrates the universal power of design and explores the role of design in our collective futures.

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