Omolara Williams McCallister
Fiber Artist, Independent Researcher (O /love/beloved)
I was talking about my research into the relationships between indigo dye processes, batik and Dutch wax print fabric, and a MICA Administrator suggested that I check out this class. I was seduced by the combination of community building, conversations around equity, and process-based natural dye work in the course description. I expected my major takeaways to be technical skills and tangible outputs like a dye garden, art pieces or writing. Instead, I have experienced for the first time in my life what it feels like to be in an educational environment that centers care. Despite the incredible range of experiences, conflicts, missteps and growth edges, this class has been committed to caring for ourselves and each other, to meeting each other where we are physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually, culturally. I am thankful to Valeska Populoh and the work that she has done throughout her life leading up to this moment to make this class possible.
Junior, Interdisciplinary Sculpture, MICA (she/her)
Growing up in Baltimore, working on urban farms throughout the city, and leading natural dye workshops at the neighborhood recreation center led me to Natural Dye as Intercultural Connector. The class has provided a glimpse of what decolonizing higher education looks like. Complex emotions and experiences have been welcomed and celebrated as a way to learn and process the roles we play and the surroundings we share as a classroom community. For the first time at MICA, I was able to learn alongside other longtime residents of the city, who understand its complexity, actively participate, and care deeply about Baltimore.
Sophomore , Fiber (Major), Humanistic Studies (Minor), Curatorial Practice (Concentration), MICA (she/they)
I came to this class with an interest in natural dye and to learn about their different cultural histories. I was moved to be in a classroom facilitated by someone capable of helping us navigate natural dye histories that are deeply intertwined with histories of oppression, exploitation, and colonization. This educational experience has been unlike any other. I have learned about natural dye history and the natural dye process, like caring for an indigo vat! I have learned how to be in community - to be vulnerable, loving and present with my classmates. The dye process teaches patience, offering slow but rewarding growth. Using dyestuff and watching it yield color after hours of preparing cloth, encountering mishaps and trying again, has instilled innumerable lessons in me. Connecting the physical dye process to discourse on dyes, including slavery and colonization, allows me to travel through the past, present, and future with a keen eye.
Sophomore, Fiber (Major), Illustration (Concentration), MICA (they, them)
The resurgence of natural dyes is such a beautiful and healing thing, but I was not seeing too many connections being made to indigenous peoples, specifically the West Africans, who were exploited for these dyes. I came to this class because I wanted to decolonize my understanding of textile traditions and plant knowledge. Through my time here, I was able to draw my own conclusions about the exploitation of people for dye colors, and connect this to my interest in sustainability and understanding the impacts of industrial practices. This is the most dynamic classroom I have ever been in, and it is constantly shifting my perceptions of what learning can look like within an institution.
Sophomore, Fiber (Major), Printmaking Concentration, MICA (she/her)
Natural dye has been an ongoing are of exploration for me, yet I was eager to learn more about their cultural significance. The thought of having a class like this was daunting and intriguing, but I knew I wanted to deepen my understanding and be able to communicate and engage with people that inspire me. I have gained and received so much from this learning experience and community. I am forever grateful for an opportunity to explore topics related to natural dye in a way that nourishes, respects, and honors the past, present, and future. Coming into a space and feeling so present with the people around me has never been so liberating. This class has brought pure joy to my life and the people around me in a way that I have never experienced. Natural dye will always be a part of the way I live; they are a reason to (Madder)!!
Junior, Urban Arts Visual Concentration, Coppin State University (she/her)
I am a visual artist. Our department chair, Dr. Hyatt, brought this class to my attention. I wanted to see where the program would take me. Since then, I love the fact that, I've learned so much (Can you be specific here? What have you learned?) from this class and at the end I can showcase all that I have learned.
Graduate Student, Curatorial Practice MFA, MICA and Resident, Prince George’s County, MD (she/her)
I was interested in taking an elective course in Fiber due to my prior professional and personal experiences in fashion and as a curator with fiber doll artists in South Africa. This course offered me an opportunity to enter a multi-faceted academic space to explore and critique not only fiber art, but other practices of professional and personal interest including natural dyes, sustainable designs and authentic cultural research. I have learned the foundational tenets of the natural dyeing process through a unique pedagogy that instigates transformation. Beyond research and hands-on technique, I was able to examine a creative practice within a context of cultural influences, intergenerational wisdom, self affirmation, collective healing, lived experiences and industry experts. This class has inspired new visions of purpose, elevating my interest to advance my knowledge and skills in natural dye techniques and apply these to my own creative practice and personal commitment to environmental sustainability.
Graduate Student, Social Design MA, MICA (she/her)
Natural Dye as an Intercultural Connector was perfect for me, especially as a human-centered designer. I have had the opportunity of learning about the properties of natural dyes and their interaction with various fabrics, something that initially brought me to this class, while also being able to focus on the Baltimore City community and its historical ties to natural dye. Our class itself has formed a strong bond, one of love, trust, and vulnerability. This bond is essential to form from within our classroom in order to prepare us for the more challenging work of building rapport with the surrounding community. I am also unlearning preconceived notions and behaviors that can negatively impact those who are around me. When I am not doing the hard work of unlearning, I find myself consumed by the stirring of the magical natural indigo vat that was born of our class.
Graduate Student, Social Design MA, MICA (she/her)
I was born in India, home to indigo, but it was here in Baltimore that I encountered the magic of this dye process and plant. My soul is grateful to have received the opportunity to ground myself here and connect with nature through natural dyes in this class. The conversations that arose from looking into the histories of natural dyes and our contemporary condition brought up chaotic emotions for many. Our community-driven process in the class, like making decisions together, created moments of frustration and confusion. Yet an invisible outcome of that work is the beautiful transformation that happened inside the hearts and minds of people in our class. I got to practice patience and trusting the flow of the group in this class, and that was a gift. I shared laughter and joy with peers and am grateful for this energy of lightness, positivity, and love that builds community.
Junior, Urban Arts Visual Concentration, Minor Nonprofit Leadership and Youth Development, Coppin State University (she/her)
I chose art as a course of study because it is the closest major relating to my passions - the arts and giving back. My passion derives from my parents’ involvement with the arts and my own drive to see the arts sector grow with creatives of the next generation. In this class, recommended to me by my Coppin professors, I gained an extensive amount of knowledge regarding the natural dye process and its connection to the world we live in now. Developing knowledge around the use of plants and other natural materials for dyeing fibers is valuable. We can honor the earth and those that made this knowledge accessible to us through this class and by trying to continue these practices in our own lives. With my newly gained knowledge of the natural dye process, I can pass this on to my family to keep the practice alive.
Jailine Cano Olivas
Junior, Fiber and Interdisciplinary Sculpture (Double Major) (she/her)
Several teachers recommended that I participate in this project because I am deeply interested in the role natural dyes play in how people connect with the natural environment. My family is from Mexico and as the daughter of immigrants I have had an interest in learning about traditional Mexican art-making as a way to reconnect with my family’s culture. I came across cochineal, a bug used to create a vibrant carmine red. That was the start of my journey into the world of natural dyes. Being in this class has given me the knowledge of natural dyeing and how magical it can be, not only through color but how this connection to our earth can create a powerful and self-aware community. I am truly blessed to have been on this journey.
Faculty/Practicum Coordinator, MICA
I was drawn to this class because of its connection to my personal art making and community work. I was drawn to the opportunity to work with students, faculty and community members utilizing an anti-oppressive model of engagement. I have learned much in terms of community building, the history natural dyes and processing of natural dyes. My biggest take away has been the power of intergenerational, cross-curricular and racially diverse learning.
Junior, Fiber (Major), Sustainability and Social Practice, Experimental Fashion (Concentration), MICA (she/her)
I was interested in joining Natural Dye as an Intercultural Connector because I already had some experience using natural dyes and knowledge of their environmental impact towards the fashion/textile industries. I did not, however, have too much awareness regarding natural dyes’ historical backgrounds and how these histories have shaped our relationship to these dyes in the present day. So far, this class has taught me the rich cultural histories of natural dyes that are both negative and positive. Most importantly, I have learned about the connections that many of my classmates hold toward specific dyes and how it has affected them and their communities. I am eager to continue working with natural dyes in my own studio practice, focusing on dyes from native plants and ones commonly found in our groceries.
Artist, Textile Conservator, and Gardener
I was drawn to this class because of its focus on natural dyes, especially indigo. A semester-long course offered the opportunity to go deeper than in a workshop, and explore the histories and cultural aspects and implications. Rosa Chang’s 123 indigo vat, Kenya Miles’ painting with mordants, meeting Catherine Ellis, among many other exchanges and presentations has been great. The class has encouraged connections among its members and created spaces to explore the implications of the different histories of dyes (indigo in particular) within different cultures, including how these are connected to revered traditions as well as enslavement of people. This class has caused me to listen intently, to see and feel in ways I cannot yet adequately put into words without diminishing the experience.
Photographer, Baltimore Resident
Participating in the natural dye project gave me the rare opportunity to become part of a community that I had been employed to observe. The extraordinary students, educators and artists responsible for this endeavor welcomed me into their classroom and introduced me to this esteemed art form. Getting to know the dye processes, its recipes, and witnessing the measure of consideration that goes into caring for a live indigo vat broadened my perspective on art-making.
I sought to capture the spirit of such a unique group of individuals by exploring the interpersonal bonds and thoughtful effort that drove this pursuit. I believe within some assignments there exists an opportunity to do much more than earn a commission. This time, I found community and I hope the pictures I made speak of the beauty of natural dyes and growing friendships.