United colors of America: kolam art from India for Kamala Harris inauguration


As Kamala Harris, the daughter of a lady from Chennai in India, takes oath as the first woman Vice President of the United States, a bit of Chennai has blossomed in America.

Hundreds of kolam paintings, geometrical-pattern drawings that are a tradition in Tamil Nadu, of which Chennai is the capital, are part of the virtual Presidential Inaugural Committee event, called An Inauguration Welcome Event Celebrating America’s Changemakers.

The organizers of the event have received 1,800 kolams.

The plan was to display the artworks at the White House vicinity and the grand inaugural area of the National Capitol Hill, but now a date for the installation after the inauguration will be set up after a go-ahead from the local security.

The artworks are waiting in boxes for now, though they were made into a video.

The idea to use kolam tiles at the United States Capitol to symbolize the healing of America after the great divide of the Trump administration took shape in early December last year.

And what started as a small local project involving local Washington DC area schools, and daycares soon spread across the US.

In Tamil Nadu, where Vice President Kamala Harris has roots, women draw kolam early in the morning on the ground to invite health and prosperity into houses.

Shanthi Chandrasekar, an Indian-American artist with roots in Tamil Nadu, was the brain behind the kolams for America movement.

Chandrasekar told indica News that growing up in Chennai she was fond of Kolam, which she missed when she moved to the US. She started teaching the art form at the local school, daycare, at Gandhi Memorial — wherever possible.

I was very nostalgic about kolam and started incorporating them in my artwork. I realized that a large number of people were very interested,” said Chandrasekar, who lives in Maryland.

Kolam is painted specially from mid-December to January, she explained, and is is believed to welcome positive energy if drawn in front of the house.

And here it’s a new beginning for Harris,” Chandrasekar said.

So, all of that seems to fit in with the inaugural. It seems to go well. So, we decided to go ahead,” said Chandrasekar.

She said her home was filled with kolam tiles in boxes.

The idea was to connect just local area schools but people learned and then we got tiles from New Jersey, New York, California, Chicago and lot of people got interested and we had to give a deadline which was January 18. We have received over 1,800. We have opened online digital submission as well.”

People have put in so many hours in this, making the tiles,” said Chandrasekar.

Each kolam has been designed as four square pieces, each 6-inch by 6-inch.

Kolams are usually designed with 23 dots in the center, I scaled it up to 41 dots.”

California-based Prafulla Mukhi, who too has submitted kolams as her gift to Harris, told indica News: “I am very excited because two of my kolams will be part of the kolam mosaic being displayed at inauguration event of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.”

Mary Lambert, Washington DC Public Schools arts director, and Lindsey Vance, visual arts manager, helped in the kolam project.

“This project provided an opportunity for our students to learn about another culture and the math skills needed for creation in the arts,” said Lambert. “As well as an opportunity to express their identity through visual arts and to see that united with others from around the country.”