Mineral mud-dye is another ancient dyeing tradition from what is now modern-day Mali. It is known in Mali as bogolanfini – literally mud-cloth. It relies for its colour on a reaction between cloth dyed in a tannic solution made by boiling up the leaves of several indigenous species of tree, and the iron content found in much of the local soil. It is unusual amongst the families of natural dyes in that it lends itself to a painterly approach and can be used to make intricate designs.
Once, this cloth was used to communicate information; each sign and symbol had a deep meaning. Because of its link with iron, the cloth was also considered protective, and traditionally, bogolanfini dyers were women, usually the wife of the blacksmith in the community, himself a revered and magical figure because of this same link with protective iron and fire. Nowadays, the symbolism has mostly been lost, and many modern dyers use blockprint or stencil in place of the intricate and time-consuming freehand work of the past. They also strip the colour back with undiluted bleach in order to achieve paler colours, a practice which is damaging both to the cloth and to the environment.
Aboubakar has stepped away from the traditional designs used in bogolanfini in Mali, believing that it is not his place to use signs and symbols which can no longer communicate their meanings, and prefers to call his work simply mineral mud-dye. He brings to this work his calligraphic discipline, and his pieces in this medium are calligraphic in nature. The mineral mud-dyeing process not only imbues the cloth with the colour and protection of iron, it also gives the cloth weight and drape. These are exceptional pieces; each one is unique, and just like the indigo, they contain the healing qualities as well as the colours of the earth they come from.