Many years ago, 1996 to be exact, I spent some months travelling around West Africa. From Dakar, Senegal my trusty companion and I caught the train through the desert to Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Plans were afoot, to visit the mysteries of the desert, names like Timbukto and Djenne fuelled our peregrinations.
Unfortunately the intensity of the Saharan heat beat us back; plans to continue further to Mopti and Timbuktu to visit the locals producing textiles were dashed and fresh air was sought by boarding a bus for a bumpy 24 hour ride to Abidjan...the solace of a sea breeze was the new goal. Hastily, I had a couple of days to explore the markets of Bamako and select a few pieces from the market vendors. I made the most of it but I always wished I could have gone further into the desert, that I had missed a opportunity in life to connect with an art form that I loved.
Last weekend, I was blessed to have this slight ache of regret tramsmuted as this 'missed opportunity' presented itself to me in a new form; the chance to have a workshop with Aboubakar Fofana and learn this skill from a master at Beautiful Silks in Melbourne.
After 17 years I was finally going to learn how to create Bogolanfini or mud cloths, I had never been as excited about mud in my whole life!
Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th November 2013
First a demonstration by the master
The cloth has been dyed with leaves from the N'gallama tree. The tannin from the crushed, boiled leaves turns the cloth a pleasant warm, yellow after the first dipping. Then the fermented mud from the river bed is applied and the cloth is left to dry in the warm African sun...or in my case on the grafitti-ed step of inner Fitzroy, whose tones, I thought complimented the drying mud very well. Once dry, the mud is washed off and the oxidisation process turns the images black. Then another dip in the tannin to intensify the colour and apply more mud to deepen the black.
Simple, time consuming, rewarding and unique to the Niger river in Mali (except when you have the privilege to have a workshop with a master dyer like Aboubakar who had brought all the leaves and mud from Mali)
Then it was time to experiment for two days....
I have to say, this workshop far exceeded my expectations. Aboubakar is very generous with his knowledge and very humble about his achievements. He is inspiring with an integrity about textiles which is highly infectious...and he doesn't mind being harangued by over zealous students for a cheesy photo....
In 2009, I did a workshop with India Flint and have kept her on a pedestal ever since. She is my Textile Goddess, her work never fails to quicken my spirit and touch me with a sense of 'other worldliness'...and now a have my Textile God to perch on that pedestal next to her.
Thank you Mr. Aboubakar Fofana, it has been honour and a joy to spend a weekend with you and your fermented mud and I hope our paths cross another day; there is still the question of indigo!