A Madurai home features kolams on its walls, thanks to the handiwork of a local street artist
Aruna Visvessvar’s neighbours in Madurai’s Sathya Sai Nagar woke up to a feast for their eyes on Pongal last week. The compound walls of her house had transformed into a canvas of colourful kolams.
Visitors streamed in appreciating the wall art, even taking photos. “Some said the house looked like an open art gallery while few others likened it to a resort,” says her husband, Visesh Iyer. People lauded the couple for making the kolam designs permanent on their boundary walls for so many others to appreciate.
Kolams usually decorate temples and the entrance of homes. Aruna says that they wanted to not only promote the State’s art and culture, but also support a local artist during these tough times.
Street artist K Elangovan worked with the couple to create the kolams. His struggles were exacerbated by the pandemic and like many others of his ilk left with no work, the only way to come to terms with the crisis, he says, was to bank on hope. And finally, the Iyers reached out to him to check if he would be willing to draw traditional kolams.
Colours galore Artist Elangovan at work special arrangement
For a quarter century, Elangovan’s canvas had been sign boards and billboards, besides walls of temples. He is also sought after by many Corporation schools in the region for beautifying their walls. Drawing the map of India, portraits of leaders, natural sceneries, birds and flowers is his forte and he told the Iyers that his familiarity with kolams was limited to watching his wife draw the patterns outside their modest home in Madakulam village every morning.
But Aruna and Visesh, the founders of Adhyapana School, insisted that he give it a try and called him over to their freshly whitewashed house. “I showed him samples; he held the brush between his thumb and forefinger and just replicated one of the designs effortlessly,” says Aruna.
It took Elangovan less than a week to complete the free hand drawings on 20 panels of 3×3 feet each. On the exterior, he made eight kolams in white and on the inside walls, he filled the kolams with emulsified water colours of his choice. For the 54-year-old artist, it was like “worship” after nine months of no work. “I never received any formal training; painting is my childhood passion,” he says and adds that he felt blessed when the kolam project fell on his lap out of the blue.
Aruna wished to get the patterns up on her walls before Pongal. “I was watching an outdoor yoga session online, set against the backdrop of a house, somewhere in north India. The brick red wall behind the teacher was filled with Warli paintings,” she says. Aruna then came up with the idea to promote the traditional Tamil art in her little way. Her introduction to Elangovan followed accidentally as he was referred to her by a paint agent.
Once the job was done, the couple scoured the city to find a house painted like theirs. “We did not spot another with kolams,” says Visesh. After they posted photos of their home’s new-look on social media, enquiries poured in from friends in Bengaluru and Chennai. “With the kolams silently making a bold statement, there is a possibility of creating new audiences for the art and the artist,” says Aruna.