By Alison Mackay, program creator
The Indigo Project is an exploration in music, words, and images of the influence of indigo dye on the culture and economy of Europe and India in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Practised in tropical climates around the world, the complex art of indigo dyeing was particularly important in India. Extracted from the leaves of the indigofera tinctoria plant, the blue dye was preserved in small cakes which could be transported in camel caravans to the Middle East and then on to Europe. During the Middle Ages indigo was a rare luxury commodity, made expensive by the taxes levied at multiple frontiers along the silk road.
When Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in 1498, a new direct ocean route from India to Europe helped to make spices, textiles, and exotic dyes much more affordable. Indigo was more intense and versatile than woad, the traditional European blue dye plant, and in spite of the lobbying efforts of local woad dealers, indigo became widely available all over Europe, where it was used to dye silk gowns, military uniforms, and clothing for working-class people.Read Full Story