The Yorùbá Blues responds to my ongoing research of Jamaica’s former indigo plantations linking to my 2016 Winston Churchill travel Fellowship to Nigeria to study indigo dyeing practices and pattern making amongst Yorùbá artisans. A link between Jamaica and Nigeria exists through Yorùbá indentured labourers arriving in Jamaica from the 1840s. They settled mostly in Hanover and Westmoreland and one of their villages is named after the Nigerian Yorùbá city Abẹòkuta. These indentured workers were able to preserve their cultural traditions in ways denied to those who had been brought to Jamaica as enslaved. Their descendants known in Jamaica as Ettu and Nago continue to maintain these traditional cultural practices to maintain their ancestral connections.
This series takes inspiration from the structure of Yorùbá indigo dyed cloths called àdìrẹ. The cloths incorporates intricate patterns and complex symbols reflecting indigenous Yorùbá society, providing a valuable insight into Yoruba religion, culture, folklore and history. The patterns are passed down through generations with the cloth functioning as clothing and a means of communication, especially for Yorùbá women, because originally àdìrẹ textiles were made entirely by women.
The Yorùbá Blues explores the notion of an ‘African Jamaican identity’ similar to the approach taken by photographer Armet Francis who reconstructed in visual terms the “underlying unity of the black people who, colonialism and slavery distributed across the African diaspora” (Francis, 1985).