Jean Kares is an independent scholar, textile specialist, artist and occasional writer. She holds a BA in Studio Art from Western Washington University and a MFA in Asian Art with a focus on China from the University of British Columbia. She teaches Asian art history and textile history for Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies, has been a tai chi instructor for over a decade and currently studies Chinese language and brush calligraphy. Her teaching interests range from ancient Chinese tombs to contemporary art with a particular fondness for the Song and early Qing dynasties, Daoism, and Asia’s rich textile history.

A Taste of Sky: Gendered Aspects of Indigo Dye

For nearly five thousand years, on every continent, in almost every culture, indigo has been one of the world’s most valued dyes. As the only naturally occurring blue dye, no other colour has been as highly prized or been at the center of such turbulent human encounters. The transformational nature of indigo gave rise to numerous legends as well as taboos – often associated with women and female labour. In various parts of the world, women have wielded great social, political and cosmological power as renowned master indigo dyers and traders. On the less positive side, the temperamental nature of indigo dye has been likened to the “unpredictable” behavior of women. As a global industry, from the sixteenth century indigo production and its profits were mainly concentrated in the hands of men. Satisfying the insatiable demand for this blue dye necessitated travel over long distances, reliance on slave labour, and a strange and difficult alchemy to create the colour. Large-scale indigo production threatened other dye industries and sparked trade wars. Through this presentation and demonstration, you will learn some of indigo’s multifaceted history, the complicated procedure required to make it useable, and witness its mysterious performance as a dye.