Kolam, sometimes known as Muggu, is a traditional form of geometric art from Sri Lanka and other parts of Southern Asia. Normally drawn in flour, sand, or powdered pigment on the ground in front of a home by the female family members, it is meant to welcome all into a home. In modern times, paint, chalk, and even vinyl stickers serve the purpose, but the meaning is the same.
Our new Vice President, Kamala Harris has often spoken of her late mother, the scientist Shyamala Gopalan, who came from rural South India. In honor of her, artist Shanthi Chandrasekar set out to welcome her and President Joe Biden in to the White House with an immense kolam.
Chandrasekar began her project in December 2020, soliciting aid from schools, social media networks, and the Indian-American community. More than 2000 people sent decorated cardboard tiles to her to be a part of the kolam.
“Kolams are a way to bring about positive energy as a person enters a space,” said Chandrasekar, who teaches the art form in workshops and lectures. And when have we ever needed more positive entry than now, as Harris and Biden enter the White House and the office of President?
“It made perfect sense to connect the idea of positive energy and [Harris’] Tamil heritage,” said Roopal Shah, who is the project’s co-organizer with Chandrasekar. “We think some of the work, some of the healing a kolam can bring, is also bringing people together regardless of your background.”
Participants were encouraged to use reinforced cardboard lawn signs, like political signs, for their canvas because they’re study. If Trump signs are a part of the finished whole, under the paint, that is just a part of bringing people together.
The 2000 pieces, connected with brads, were meant to be displayed in front of the U.S. Capitol for four days leading to the inauguration, but the display has been postponed due to unrest. Instead, the project has been featured in a virtual welcome video made by the Presidential Inauguration Committee, and it is going to be assembled and displayed at a later date.