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Colorful Connections: Students Present Indigo Research to Kick Off New Student Research Forum
By Mackensie Griffin

This past November, students and faculty of Bard Graduate Center gathered on Zoom for a rich, multi-layered presentation on the global obsession with a deep shade of blue. “Indigo: Cultural and Material Histories of a Color,” was the first of an exciting new series: a forum in which students present their research projects to faculty and their peers. The Student Research Forum was the brainchild of post-doctoral fellow Hadley Jensen and associate professor Aaron Glass. They knew of several students independently researching the topic of indigo and proposed to associate director of research programs Laura Minsky and Dean Peter Miller that they present their research together. Minsky recalled, “We were excited by the idea but thought it would be a good idea to formalize the format and create an open call to give all students the opportunity to propose an event and share their research with the community.” The initial symposium’s rousing success was followed by a January presentation by students researching the material culture of wellness, and the faculty welcomes future proposals from groups of three to four students in the hopes of creating a series of thematic mini symposia.

The inaugural symposium featured ten-minute presentations from first-year MA student Mary Adeogun, and second-year MAs Jessie Young, Daria Murphy, and Juliana Fagua-Arias. A group with diverse backgrounds, each presentation reflected a unique approach to material culture. Adeogun’s Nigerian heritage and personal experimentation with indigo dyeing informed her introductory presentation, “Experiments with the Living Dye Vat,” which provided a helpful foundation for understanding the basic dyeing process by using the “language of chemistry” to discuss indigo textiles from West Africa; Young’s presentation “Indigo Production and Trade on the Indian Subcontinent” was inspired by her upbringing in and recent visits to northern India, as well as her experience with making and dyeing textiles; Fagua-Arias’s Colombian background initially led her to study the Indigenous cultures of the Andes, which expanded to pre-Columbian Indigenous culture in the Americas, allowing her to present “Indigo in the Indigenous Textiles of the American Southwest;” while Murphy’s exploration of indigo used in paper sutras from east Asia in the seventh through the twelfth centuries grew out of an interest in examining textiles through the lens of color.

Although the varied cultural histories that the students brought to light spanned three continents and thousands of years, when this research was presented side-by-side, strong connective threads emerged. Notably, each presenter celebrated the skill and knowledge of Indigenous artisans (both past and present) and their intimate physical and spiritual relationships with the dyeing process. As chair of academic programs Deborah Krohn expressed, “It’s wonderful to think about how color crystallizes so many aspects of material and cultural history. It’s an incredibly rich topic.” Glass praised the presentations as well-crafted, both on an individual and collective level, calling them “much more enjoyable and coherent than most conference sessions.”

The success of the event depended on extensive collaboration between students, faculty, and staff. For example, Adeogun, who had never done an academic presentation before, consulted with several professors, fellow students, and BGC librarians, and also participated in presentation run-throughs. She expressed gratitude for the support she received from the BGC community and enjoyed learning from the other presentations. As in the dye vat, where color is layered onto a blank canvas to achieve a deeper hue, each contribution to the forum added another layer, deepening the audience’s understanding of indigo.
Mackensie Griffin is a first-year BGC MA student.