Sunday, March 28, 2010

The 223rd good thing about Lagos: Seeing some seriously fabulous batik artwork

In January I had the chance to try batik and indigo cloth dyeing myself. The end result of my batik trial was quite crude (it's the last picture in that linked post), but I was proud enough to make a little dress out of my own batiked cloth recently and I wear it with pride, saying "yeah, you can't buy cloth like this anywhere -- it's a one-of-a-kind design." Not that anyone would want to buy cloth like that. But anyway -- you can't. But the experience of trying batik made me appreciate even more the works of a master, which I saw recently.

I got to know the Osogbo artist Shangodare when we visited the Sacred Groves of Osogbo. He was our tour guide through the Groves and we also were able to see one of his batik works while we were viewing the works of Osogbo artists. I was amazed at the sophistication of his work, so I jumped at the chance to view more of his work at an exhibition a week ago.

His work was being shown in the home and garden of a guy who is a South African vineyard owner who has a fabulous art collection of his own. This guy has a lot of seriously great African modern art. It was a bonus treat to see his home and collection along with the works of Shangodare, and also have the chance to talk to Shangodare about his work and his technique.

They said it was all right to take pictures of Shangodare's work. The purpose of the exhibition was to give his work exposure more than to sell pieces, so I didn't hold back on the pictures and thought showing them on my blog would give his work a bit of exposure. This first work is his representation of the Osun festival, for which Osogbo is well-known. The flame from the lanterns in the center is part of the festival celebration. These works I have pictured were the ones outside where, with the light, I could take better pictures, so they are the very large works, maybe 15 x 6 feet.

I don't remember the subject of this next work. But Sangodare knows how many colors are in each of these works -- up to 31, I think. Some of the dyes are natural dyes, from plant roots and leaves. There are some of them that are artificial chemical dyes. The black background is natural indigo dye.

He starts his process, after thinking about his subject and doing some mental planning, by sketching with pencil on the fabric. Then he starts by waxing areas that will show the figures and objects in the work -- everything that will not be part of the black indigo background. The waxed cloth is then dipped many times in the indigo dye to get the rich black background. The temperature of the wax when it is applied is also important because that affects the cracking of the wax. A picture I took turned out blurry so I didn't post it here, but on one work he had a couple of musical instruments, shaker drums covered with shells. I was amazed at how he made the instruments distinct by portraying the shells on one with a lot of the cracking and the other one with barely any at all. That's got to be really tricky.

After dyeing the indigo background, he then starts with applying the color to the other areas of the work. I guess he has to take off the wax first in areas where he starts to color. He said he makes the dye and then uses a stiff brush to brush on the color. He used a brisk rubbing motion rather than the motion that an artist would apply paint to a canvas. So maybe the rubbing will take the wax off in areas where he is coloring -- I'm not sure about that.

But it's clear from looking at his creations that it takes a lot of skill to produce works like these. He said he works on no more than 3 at a time and some can take years before he is finished with them. They didn't have prices on any pieces, but I feel quite certain that they were out of my price range to purchase. They were going to enter some of them in an art auction before too long. I'm sure whoever buys them will appreciate the mastery he has of this medium.

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