AFRICA IN BLUE

IN a swirl of dark and light blues, a dozen barefoot young Nigerian women jump, bend, and twirl to the pounding rhythm of hand-held "talking" drums.

Their indigo dresses and head scarves, made using a traditional method known as adire, accentuate their handsome faces.

Until recently, adire clothmaking was a fading art form in Nigeria.

Unlike batik, which uses wax to cover portions of cloth as it is repeatedly dipped in various colored dyes, adire uses a paste made from cassava and applied with a chicken feather. Because the paste dissolves faster than wax, adire involves only one color dye, traditionally indigo.

As the cloth is dipped numerous times into large clay pots of indigo, made from local plants, some of the blue seeps under the cassava paste, leaving a lighter blue in the paste-covered areas.

Since the cassava paste does not soak through, like waxes used in batikmaking, the reverse side of the cloth is a solid, dark indigo. The result - a chorus of shades of blues.

Nike Olaniyi, a Nigerian artist and owner of the Nike Center for Arts and Culture here, teaches other Nigerians traditional art forms, including adire.

Adire clothmaking is a long process. Making the dyes, drawing the often intricate designs with chicken feathers, then dipping the cloth, can take weeks for a large piece.

But the personalized, attractive result, with its rich blue shades, is still valued by some Nigerians and a small but growing number of foreign customers Nike has cultivated through shows abroad.

Kings Amao, one of Nike's students, took a dozen adire quilts to an exhibition in Germany last August. "They sold everything I had," he says.

Kemi Akinwale, another Nike student, knows the art of the indigo dyes used in adire clothmaking. "Indigo was my grandmother's work before. My grandmother taught me."

"Most of the people think it [adire clothmaking] is totally dead," said Nike recently. "I still see it as alive."

Thanks in part to her, it is.

r Nike Olaniyi, Nike Center for Arts and Culture, P.O. Box 911, Oshogbo, Nigeria.

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