Kolam Pattern At Threshold

Artist Background

In Chennai, India, where I grew up, women rose before dawn. It was their quiet time with the universe; free from their hectic schedule that they face during the day, women clean and draw geometrical rice powdered patterns on the ground, at the entrances of their home. This ritual of making paintings in rice powder on the ground is called kolam. The study of kolam can be compared with the study of women’s oral traditions and other ritual art forms in different cultures.

My art and research originates in my early exposure to oral traditions and original works of kolam ritual threshold art in India created in Tamilnadu. Kolams are drawn mostly by women all over India, on the floors and walls of houses during festivals and other religious ceremonies. Kolams vary in name, technique, style, material and placement according to the region in which they are produced. Millions of Tamil women currently practice this ritual and it is embedded in their everyday life.

The creation of South Indian and Aboriginal Ritual art was created for a specific ritual and it had its place, materials, designs and a certain time to create. Over the years the traditional methods of Indigenous ritual art have already yielded to more contemporary applications and contemporary designs. For Indian woman, living in large cities and in apartments, juggling home and work, have no time to draw kolam as their women ancestors once did. The kolams has moved to a contemporary space with the spread of new social structures and breaking down of the values in which the kolams thrived. Kolam was once drawn only by hand and now you can find hollow tubes, tin sheets and stainless steel containers perforated with kolam designs and generic Kolam designs on stickers to aid in the threshold ritual.

I too have moved away from the formal ritual of kolam and into contemporary printmaking. I have printed kolam designs on fabric and now on doormats. The kolam being an oral tradition is kept alive through new ways. I can see that spirit of kolam is being kept alive when I crossed borders and doing so has empowered me through very rough times in my life. The application of the kolam might be different but the spiritual connotation is still alive.

In my research I seek to explore the philosophical connections between the two cultures with the eventual desire to collaborate, learn, and enrich the artistic statement of women and men artists who come from such seemingly different cultural and ecological backgrounds. From a broader cultural perspective, the proposed research has implications for understanding the role of art expression in daily lives, and the potential for such sacred ritualistic art for human healing.

My research project and art is dedicated to all women worldwide, who are struggling to discover and live their own truths. It forms a common thread that can unite the women and men of innumerable cultures, who otherwise would be divided by race, language, caste, religion and occupation.