THE BLUES at the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre), to March 2, 2008. $12, srs $8, stu $6, Wednesday 5-8 pm pwyc. 416-599-5321. Rating: NNNN
Ever wonder why jeans are blue? a show at the Textile Museum explores blue cloth around the world.
Indigo dying, employing leaves from a variety of plants, is one of the great pre-industrial technologies. Like wine- and bread-making, it involves fermentation, a living culture of micro-organisms. The cloth emerges from the dye bath a yellow-green colour; blue only develops when it is exposed to air.
When dyers work their magic, a vat of indigo can dye large quantities of cloth a deep, intense blue that became standard for peasants' and workers' clothing in many countries. Today a synthetic dye chemically identical to indigo colours our global uniform of denim.
Africa and Japan receive a special focus. Tie-dyed wrappers and an extra-wide deep purple robe into which dye has been hammered until it shines show the dramatic style favoured in West Africa. A cloth scrap brought from Sierra Leone by a Nova Scotia missionary who helped repatriate Africans from the Amistad adds a historical note.
Unlike the sumptuous kimonos usually associated with Japan, the blue garments here are everyday items that have been worn and carefully mended. They just as effectively demonstrate their nation's flair for meticulous handwork and pattern-on-pattern design.
A section of the show with a soundtrack of blues music features pieces by Mary Lee Bendolph of Gee's Bend, an African-American community in Alabama whose women are famous for the syncopated, irregular geometry of their quilts.
Five other contemporary artists contribute work relating to the indigo tradition, but the pieces by unnamed craftspeople are the stars here.
A quiet oasis in an office building just north of City Hall, the Textile Museum has no plans to enlist the services of a flashy architect or chef, concentrating instead on presenting accessible and interesting shows like this one.