第27回国民文化祭・とくしま2012 阿波藍×未来形プロジェクト 阿波藍アートプログラム I am 藍, We are 藍. AWA-AI ArtProgram'I am AI,We are AI' width=

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The history of indigo farming and sukumo production in Tokushima stretches back over 4 centuries. While historically indigo was grown throughout Japan, the Kingdom of Awa, as Tokushima was known in the feudal period, began developing a monopoly on indigo in Japan under the leadership of Iemasa Hachitsuka in the late 1600's. By investing heavily in research and development, the feudal government developed indigo crops and refined methods of composting that led to a superior quality of indigo. These developments were heavily guarded secrets, and while this information was disseminated through trade schools, their graduates swore and oath - on the penalty of death - to not take their knowledge of Awa indigo production to other parts of Japan.

This was serious business, and the investment paid off. At its peak in the late 1800's there were nearly 36,000 acres of indigo under cultivation in Tokushima that produced indigo dye that was sold throughout the country. When Westerners arrived in Japan in the late 19th Century, the vast majority of Japanese were wearing clothing dyed with indigo, and the vast majority of that indigo came from Tokushima.

The feudal kingdom's investment is still evident today. While greatly decreased in scale, the 40 acres still under cultivation in Tokushima produce nearly 80% of the traditional indigo used in Japan today.

I am Ai, We are Ai was a public art project by Rowland Ricketts as part Japan’s 2012 National Cultural Festival hosted by Tokushima Prefecture that ran from July 28-December 16, 2012). The project celebrated the history and future of indigo in Tokushima by creating both visual and physical connections between the indigo growers, processors, dyers, and end users who together comprise this ongoing tradition.

The first stage of I am Ai, We are Ai began in early May when professional dyers throughout Japan who use the indigo grown and processed in Tokushima were invited to participate in the project by dyeing lengths of cloth to what they consider to be the most meaningful shade of blue. Over 200 of these blues, born of the Tokushima soil and dyed throughout Japan, were brought together in Tokushima for the second and third stages of the project – a homecoming of sorts.

As the dyed cloths returned to Tokushima, a short length was cut off of each. In the second stage of the project, these short lengths of indigo-dyed cloth were assembled as a group to travel to sites of historical significance to Awa Indigo throughout the prefecture. At each site the public was invited to select their favorite shade of blue and make a pin with the cloth to take home with them and wear throughout the festival. This simple action combined with the display of the cloth and drying indigo plants was intended to illuminate and develop the connections between the contemporary and historical indigo practices, between dyers throughout the country and people of Tokushima, between the farmers, indigo producers, dyers, and consumers, as well as most simply between people and indigo.

The remaining longer lengths of cloth were assembled in mid-October into the indoor installation that was the third stage of the I am Ai, We are Ai project. The installation was in a warehouse along the banks of the Shinmachi River where all of the Awa Indigo historically exported from Tokushima travelled in boats on its way to dyers throughout the country. These blues were arranged to present the straightforward beauty of Awa indigo, something that speaks for itself. Dried indigo plants piled on the floor gave presence to the material roots of these blue cloths in the fields of Tokushima. An evolving sound work by Norbert Herber gave voice to Awa indigo's immaterial substance – the process and history that give it shape and meaning, and the eternally evolving nature of this tradition.

Each stage of the Awa indigo process brings additional layers of meaning to this dye, and it is precisely these meanings that transform Awa into something so much more than just a blue dye. This project was designed in a similar way, so that as a process additional layers of meaning will be added and drawn out from the materials. Starting from the soil of Tokushima, the indigo's journey was traced in materials, process, and sound as it traveled to dyers throughout the county to be transferred to cloth, as those cloths returned to Tokushima and visited sites of historical significance to Awa indigo, as small bits of those cloth were turned into pins and distributed throughout the prefecture, as all the cloths were assembled for a large installation, and finally, as those cloths journey out again, back to the dyers and farmers whose collective endeavors gave them their color.