DAKSHINA CHITRA, Chennai, February 13 to march 2O, 2016
The competition team
I would so much like to converse with them but I would have to learn hadoti, one among Rajasthan’s myriad dialects. However, during the day my wish becomes reality. As I am sitting cross-legged, contemplating the creation of a mandana, the boldest girl hands me a vegetable brush and points out where I have to draw. By way f dialogue, she writes in space with the tip of her index finger, the pattern’s outline. I grab the tool and I reproduce as best as I can, a spiral wrapped around the central design. Friendly hands come immediately to my rescue and correct my clumsiness. What a joy to learn and feel the strength of a collective work.
A young boy who understood my interest for mandana decides to accompany me. He moves aside the crowd and guides my steps to each and every drawing that might interest me and that I could photograph. The day ends in joy between mutual admiration, curiosity and authentic generosity. I drink tea in many houses and relish pastries made for Dipavali. It’s time to leave but I already know that I will come back to see these women, guardians of a pictorial tradition as they write in symbols the village destiny and paint diagrams to attract the favors of the divinities.
I am happy to share with you the release on august 13th of my book on south Indian Kolam. The English version is on the way and the title will be “Journey into Indian imagination, kolam, ephemeral drawings of Tamil women”
Extract from the introduction translated by Isabel Putinja
Welcoming the day
“What a wonderful way to welcome the day: with drawings made of rice flour. It doesn’t matter what you make of it at first glance, a kôlam attracts your attention because of its exquisite patterns. Seen through my western eyes, they remind me of delicate lace doilies. The many thread-like drawings also evoke the ephemeral decorations made of carpets of coloured sawdust or flowers during the Christian festival “corpus Christi”. Something truly surprising happens when a woman’s hands trace these beautiful patterns on the ground and the rice powder meets the dust of the earth.
A stroll at dawn through the towns and villages of Tamil Nadu requires not only an attentive eye which attempts to make out the surroundings, but also a sharp ear. Almost imperceptibly, objects take shape and welcome the birth of a new day, taking on an appearance which is at once resonant, fluid and rhythmic. The chirping of nocturnal insects and cawing of crows is followed by the rustling sounds made by straw brooms and the slapping noise of water being thrown onto the ground horizontally from metal basins. The tiny drops are suspended for the fraction of an instant, forming a transparent veil which falls softly to the ground or bounces joyously onto the pavement.
In the half-light, women holding boxes of white powder call out to each other while sizing up the spot where their drawings will come to life. Bending from the hips and keeping the back at a sharp angle, the women’s wrists provide a rhythmical control to their fingers as they create evenly spaced rows of discreet dots of rice flour or quartz powder, called pulli in Tamil. It is on this dotted line of perfect symmetry that flowers, birds and deities or geometrical patterns will emerge…”
© Copyright 2013 Chantal jumel
Isabel has a wonderful blog and we met for an interview on kolam
After watching Jean Renoir’s film «The River», I wanted to find a book that would describe the astonishing drawing gestures seen at the beginning of the movie. One day, heading to the library of Asian museum Guimet in Paris, I found a work titled “l’Alpona ou les décorations rituelles du Bengale” with illustrations from the painter Abanindranath Tagore and nephew of Rabindranath Tagore the poet, writer, composer and Nobel Prize in 1913. Page after page, the booklet features geometrical diagrams, animals, birds and everyday objects as well as descriptions of rituals. The former English version “Alpona” was written by Tapan Mohan Chatterji and published by Orient Longmans.
 Two words are in usage : âlpona or âlpana.
As a child I dreamed of becoming a dancer or an actress, a musician or a painter and my favourite book was “Contes et légendes de l’Inde”. The images showed black and white men in turbans, an assembly of bonzes, a man with an elephant face and characters with numerous arms and heads. Among them, there was an attractive figure, a young man with mysterious almond shaped eyes playing a flute. It fascinated me without a reason, and it was only after several pages that he-reappeared and this time in colour illustration; his skin was blue and the headdress conferred him a princely appearance. His name was Krishna and the story of his exploits was going to occupy most of the book and part of my life. Another coloured image showed a blind king on a battle field; the blazing background suggested blood and a fierceful, mercy less battle. The earth was strewn with broken spears, defeated elephants and lamenting women holding out their arms. This brutal evocation, threw me into the world of Mahabharata,one of the greatest epics of India.
Krishna, the valiant prince, the youthful cowherd playing the flute, I was going to meet him again in the legendary film of Jean Renoir called “the River” which was shot in Bengal. In a scene, one of the heroines imagines herself to be Radha, the beloved of the dark skinned god for whom she dances addressing him praises through hands gestures. The dance episode as well as the opening scene of the film were to impress permanently the course of my existence.
The very first image that Jean Renoir offers to the audience is the sight of a feminine hand tracing a perfect white circle on the ground, followed by four petals facing the cardinal points while an off voice starts narrating the film: “In India to honour guests on special occasions, women decorate the floor of their houses with rice flour and water”. What an appealing custom, the gesture and the sitting posture are fascinating but why paint on the ground? Is there a reason? Is there a repertory or is it merely the result of a fertile imagination? Does the painting remain? The questions lingered in my mind for a long time until I decided to go to India.