Eli Kpotorfe – A Very Special Ingredient

By Genny Cortinovis

Gina’s son looks to the creations made at the batiking workshop.

Batikers, although most certainly artists, are first chemists; they orchestrate chemical reactions, envisioning colors into being. A plastic tub is her laboratory, hydrosulfate, caustic soda, water and salt her elements. Does she want wine or brick, grass or Kelly green? She swirls the fabric into the dye bath and waits and watches. From a bath of brown liquid, she pulls out a cloth dyed deep indigo, from red she reveals yellow, which ripens to green as it meets oxygen. She has to trust in her training, but perhaps more crucially, her instincts.

After just a few minutes at Gina’s home and workshop, surrounded by intricate foam stamps, terracotta basins of hot wax and black cauldrons of steaming water, I was mesmerized. It was the same thrill of being in a dark room, watching an image come to the surface of a blank paper as it wading in solution. Batik, and I suppose dying, in general, has that same quality of mystery and excitement. You take a leap of faith when you drop a yard of cotton in the pot.

I came with a million ideas to Gina’s workshop: Could I make this shape? Would this color combination work? What would happen if I point that there, dipped this part here? The possibilities were endless, as well as, thank goodness, Gina’s patience. She would listen to me explain my idea. With her hand pensively on her chin, she would look up and imagine the process, step by step. “For those blocks of white, we should use resistance wood strips. For that patch of deep green, a finely shaved foam block.” “Ok,” she would say, “let’s try it.”

I returned the next weekend with dreams of indigo dipped linen, flecked with white, like stars in a night sky. “Tie those knots tighter!” “You need larger string,” she counseled. In the dye bath, out on the line. In the hot water out on the line. With each step, it got closer and closer to my dreamy blanket of night sky. Despite its flaws, I beamed with beginner’s pride, displaying it for her approval.

“Not bad. But we’ll do better next time.” She handed me a mango, freshly fallen from the tree overhead. “Paradise, no?”

I couldn’t help but agree.


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