Constellations of spirals, dots and circles speckle cotton and silk fabric as dark as the African sky.
That fabric and its iterations in T-shirts and scarves will drape the booth of Nigerian indigo dyer Gasali Adeyemo at this year’s 13th Annual International Folk Art Market.
Gasali, who lives in Santa Fe, creates fabrics of silk and cotton using batik, tie-dye and indigo in the traditional adire technique. Adire is traditional Yoruba hand-painted cloth. Artists create patterns by tying and stitching the fabric with raffia or cotton thread, or by using chicken feathers to paint with cassava paste made from African tubers. The paste acts as a resist dye, creating white patterns against the blue.
Gasali sees himself both as an artist and an ambassador of the traditional Yoruba culture in southwestern Nigeria.
Dyeing and painting are his form of therapy.
A tiny plywood studio sits in the back of his Santa Fe yard, piled with stacks of folded fabric, an electric frying pan sitting ready to heat the wax. Buckets of fabric soaking in dye sit beneath a nearby tree. Wall hangings expressing his culture decorate the walls, along with photographs of his mother and his father, who died 24 years ago.
Gasali grew up in a house with a family of five. Everyone slept on floor mats, because there were no beds. They gathered water in buckets from a local ditch. Rice was their primary food at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“The size of my house was the size of a classroom,” Gasali said. “Being in the U.S. and part of the Folk Art Market is a dream come true.”
He makes enough money at the market to last throughout the year.
Gasali sends a portion of his market income home to help his mother and send his nieces to school in Nigeria.
Indigo grows wild in Nigeria. Gasali imports it to create his clothing. Dried balls of the plant fill a basket on his desk like yarn.
A white silk T-shirt spreads across his work table, its fabric swirled with white spirals and circles. Gasali slices a foam square into a pointed pen shape, dips it into the hot wax and adds designs to the sleeves as he listens to traditional African music.
‘My mind is not here,” he said. “My mind is in Africa.
“It makes me digest the hardship, the life I grew up in Africa,” he continued, “to be able to share that with other people.”
His father died young; no one knows what killed him.
“He died in his home in a lot of pain,” Gasali. “Doctors ask for a down payment. People die because of $50.”
His design shapes symbolize the beliefs of the Yoruba people. He creates them all without a sketch or pattern.
“You just meditate with it,” he said. “And then you flow.”
The spiral is known as a “mosquito coil” that represents the cycle of life. A fish bone pattern reflects the people’s fondness for tilapia.
A double X shape signals crossroads.
“We use the designs as a healing,” Gasali said. “In that junction, we believe there is a spirit. We use indigo to identify the tribe. We do not carry an ID card.”
He studied, then taught at Nigeria’s Nike Center for Arts and Culture. Then he entered an exchange program through the University of Nigeria, which landed him in Ames, Iowa.
“When I first came, I arrived in New York,” he said. “That was the scary part. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people.”
He flew into John F. Kennedy International Airport in the middle of a snowstorm. He had only seen the flaky white substance in movies.
“I took a picture and sent it home to my parents,” he said. “I don’t know how people can live in weather like that,” he added, flashing a grin.
After that, he became something of a traveling Nigerian workshop teacher, migrating to towns across the U.S. He finally settled in Santa Fe in 1996 after visiting a friend.
“I call it the center of craft and culture,” he said.
He flies home at least once a year.
“People always ask me, Gasali, are you going to come back home? I say, ‘Yes.’ ”
Scheduled for July 8-10 at Milner Plaza on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill, this year’s market will showcase the work of nearly 200 artists from more than 60 countries.
Visitors can choose from jewelry, beadwork, basketry, carvings, glass, metal, paintings, mixed-media, sculpture, textiles, musical instruments and more. Nearly 40 percent of the artists are new to the market. Many come from developing countries where the average income is less than $3 a day.
In the past 12 years, 850 artists from 92 countries have participated, generating more than $23 million in sales. Ninety percent of the take heads home with the artists. Many have returned home to build schools, houses and wells for clean drinking water.