Aen array of white dotted structures portrayed aesthetically with symmetric, curved and twisted lines can form a kolam in Tamil Nadu. To acknowledge women who have relentlessly spent their lives practising the art, Chantal Jumel, freelance researcher and writer from Burgundy, France, has exhibited her journey through the field of Kolam research in India through photographs on show at DakshinChitra, Muttukadu.
“When I came to India in the 1980’s, I went to Kerala to learn the traditional mural painting , Kathakali and Mohiniattam. Gradually, I noticed women drawing kolams early in the morning, every single day and was impressed by its beautiful aesthetics. I was surprised that women didn’t know what they were doing was a visual art!” recollects Chantal who stayed in Pattanamthitta, Kerala for 25 years.
Due to unavailability of research material then, she set off on a journey to document, and also speak to women about kolam. “When I showed interest in what they were doing, they graciously spent time and explained the designs and intricacies involved,” she shares.
Chantel came to Mylapore in 2010 to witness the Mylapore Kolam Festival and documented the different types of kolams. She also has the credit of acclaiming the ignored process of kolam as an art. “It was just a routine for women to draw the kolam. It was just like any other household work for them,” she says.
After she started conducting lectures for small groups of women or her ‘maami friends’ as she calls them, explaining the aesthetics of kolam, she recollects how some became teary-eyed after realising its worth.
“It is only when we look deep into the art that we understand the distinctive features of each,” she says, picking up her second book, Journey into Indian imagination, kolam, ephemeral drawings of Tamil women and pointing out the pictures of a tight and symmetric kolam in a typical Iyer household and a more free-hand, inwardly curvaceous kolam of an Iyengar household.
Awed by the intricacies of a chikku (tangled) kolam, she shares that it is one of the most interesting styles. “One needs to have a very sharp mind to master chikku kolam. Apart from being an art, it is also used in worship,” she explains.
Having learnt the art from the best, Chantal can pull off any kolam. “It all comes with practice and I am currently engaged in a kolam which has the repetition of the sacred syllable OM,” she says pointing to a half complete kolam created with ‘Om’ on a canvas.
Chantel wants this art to be preserved. “It should be made mandatory for people to learn. With the advent of sticker kolams and small thresholds in apartments, the art is fading away. It’s our duty to preserve it,” she adds. (Her work is on display at the Ambur Gallery in DakshinaChitra until March 20. For details, call 27472603)