Harlem Needle Arts comes to Halsey House
IYA ALARO: The Indigo Trade
and the Power of Mothers in Yorubaland
June 2 to September, 2023
Sunrise to Sunset
Halsey House & Garden, 249 South Main Street, Southampton, NY 11968
An outdoor exhibit titled IYA ALARO by multidisciplinary artist Oluwaseyi (Shayee) Awoyomi who is also a fifth-generation textile dryer from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. It will be mounted at Halsey House & Garden beginning May 1st and ending September 15, 2023. The artwork will hopefully bring awareness to America’s shared past with Africa and the dye plant indigo. The installation can be easily seen by walking or driving by Halsey House, located at 249 South Main Street in Southampton.
The fifty-foot-long mural’s creation was curated by Harlem Needle Arts, Inc. In 2022 the outdoor artwork was displayed for a year at Colonel Young Triangle in Harlem. It depicts Iya Alaro, the mother of dyers, who oversees the indigo harvest and production of indigo-dyed cloth, known as ‘Aidre’ among the Yoruba People of Nigeria.
Indigo pigment was used in the ancient world beginning at least 3,000 years ago. It probably developed in India and was widely used for medicinal, cosmetic, and decorating purposes by the Egyptian and Mayan Civilizations. The dye was an important luxury item during America’s Colonial Era used in fabrics and wall papers, it was so valuable that Indigo dye was sometimes used as currency.
The role of indigo dyed fabric production and trade was developed hundreds of years ago by industrious women of Yorubaland in West Africa. Its importance as a sacred color used in dye-resist fabrics, with geometric designs, continues with the Yoruba People and in markets around the world.
A collaboration was sparked in 2022 between Michelle Bishop, director of Harlem Needle Arts, and Tom Edmonds, Southampton History Museum, to share an exhibit that ties the plant dye indigo with West African culture, women’s history, slavery and America’s colonial past.
Mr. Edmonds says, “This mural gives a new historical focus to NYS’s oldest English-style home and will enhance the building’s use as an outdoor exhibit space.”
This exhibit was made possible with funds provided by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).
Halsey House & Garden was built in 1683 and is New York State’s oldest English-style building. Interior period rooms that reflect the life and work of the Halsey family who began farming the property in 1648. An outdoor herb garden, open year-round, contains herbs used in the 17th century for medicine, dying, household management and cooking. It is managed by the Southampton History Museum. Halsey House is under construction in 2023 and closed to the public. For more information go to southamptonhistory.org
Harlem Needle Arts, Inc. is a nonprofit gallery curating the experience of the African Diaspora using fiber, textiles, design and needle arts since 2005. They recently opened URBAN THREADS SALON 1791 located at 1791 Lexington Avenue, btw 111 and 112 Sts. in NYC. They are open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 12 – 6 pm and Thursday 1-8 pm. For more information go to: harlemneedlearts.org
Photos by Tom Edmonds.
AAQ / Resource
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