There are over 800 species of indigo-bearing plants found throughout the world, and of these, almost 600 can be found in Africa. Two species indigenous to West Africa, Indigofera arrecta and Lonchocarpus cyanescens, contain the highest amount of indigo pigment and produce the most saturated blues of any indigo-bearing plant in the world.
The dyeing traditions in West Africa date back many thousands of years and are intricately intertwined with many cultural and religious traditions in this region. To produce indigo dye from the green indigo leaves is a long and exacting process. The fermented vat technique Aboubakar uses starts with fresh young leaves, which are crushed and dried and then placed into a 300-litre vat with pH neutral and chemical free water and left to macerate. Bacteria grow in the mixture as the leaves begin to ferment. The bacteria are fed a daily mixture of flour and fructose (like date syrup) to encourage them to grow. The plant matter remains in the vat the whole time.
The intense, saturated colours of a fermented vat are a result of the synergistic interactions between the indigo plant matter, bacteria, and the environment in the vat; Aboubakar's vats are truly alive and the transference of colour to the textile is a result of these living interactions.
This ancient method produces blue shades that are unmatchable by any other dyeing process, and have a close affinity with the iridescent blues produced by nature, the blue of the sky, of a butterfly's wing, of a bird's plumage. Because of the way Aboubakar's indigo vats are created, the blues produced reflect the entire profile of the indigo leaves, including its protective properties. Aboubakar's pieces are not just blue textiles, they are healing and soothing, containing the energy of the living organisms that made them. They are entirely light- and colour-fast and will grow more beautiful with age.