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Iya Alaro: The Indigo Trade and the Power of Women in Yorubaland

Updated: May 24, 2023

By Oluwaseyi (Shayee) Awoyomi, Curated by Harlem Needle Arts

An outdoor exhibit titled IYA ALARO by multidisciplinary artist Oluwaseyi (Shayee) Awoyomi who is also a fifth generation textile dyer from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, will be mounted at Halsey House & Garden beginning June 2nd and ending September 15, 2023. The artwork will hopefully bring awareness to America’s shared past with Africa and the dye plant indigo. The installation can be easily seen by walking or driving by Halsey House & Garden, located at 249 South Main Street in Southampton, NY.

The fifty-foot long mural’s creation was curated by Harlem Needle Arts, Inc. under the direction of Executive Director Michelle Bishop. In 2022 the outdoor artwork was display for a year at Colonel Young Triangle in Harlem. It depicts Iya Alaro, the mother of dyers, who oversees the indigo harvest and production of indigo-dyed cloth, known as ‘Aidre’ among the Yoruba People of Nigeria.

Indigo pigment was used in the Ancient world beginning at least 3,000 years ago. It probably developed in India and was widely used for medicinal, cosmetic and decorating purposes by the Egyptian and Mayan Civilizations. The dye was an important luxury item during America’s Colonial Era used in fabrics and wall papers, it was so valuable that Indigo dye was sometimes used as currency.

The role of indigo dyed fabric production and trade was developed hundreds of years ago by industrious women of Yorubaland in West Africa. Its importance as a sacred color used in dye-resist fabrics, with geometric designs, continues with the Yoruba People and in markets around the world.

This exhibit was made possible with funds provided by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).


Events and Programs


Halsey House & Garden was built c. 1683 and is New York State’s oldest English-style building. Interior period rooms that reflect the life and work of the Halsey family who began farming the property in 1648. An outdoor herb garden, open year-round, contains herbs used in the 17th century for medicine, dying, household management and cooking. It is managed by the Southampton History Museum. Halsey House is under construction in 2023 and closed to the public.

Harlem Needle Arts, Inc. is a nonprofit gallery curating the experience of the African Diaspora using fiber, textiles, design and needle arts since 2005. They recently opened URBAN THREADS SALON 1791 located at 1791 Lexington Avenue, btw 111 and 112 Sts. in NYC. They are open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 12 - 6 pm and Thursday 1-8 pm. For more information go to:

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The role of indigo dyed fabric production and eggy car trading was pioneered hundreds of years ago by hardworking women in Yorubaland, West Africa.


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