An artistic enlightenment

Abirami Swaminathan shows a group of students how to use rice flour to create a unique piece of artwork.

Students at Stallings Elementary learn traditional Indian art

STALLINGS – Fifth-graders at Stallings Elementary recently got a taste of Indian art through a special Kolam workshop.
First grade teacher Suresh Swaminathan, a Visiting International Faculty member from the United Kingdom and a native of India, headed up the workshop. Through creative art projects, the students learned about the culture of India.

The Kolam workshop was part of an ongoing effort within Union County Public Schools to provide students with a broader global education through hands-on learning activity.

“We teach the regular curriculum, but whenever we can put an Indian slant on it or a British slant on it, that’s what we’re doing, just to increase global awareness amongst kids,” Swaminathan said. “We’re going to do it mainly through arts, so through dance, through artwork, through music.”

Swaminathan chose Kolam because it’s a practical, hands-on, abstract form of art. Historically, Kolam artwork was done daily on front porches in India using rice flour and basic geometric shapes. It originally wasn’t a permanent form of artwork – artists never displayed their creations within their homes – although Swaminathan said it has evolved over time, and some will frame their artwork if it’s something they’re particularly proud of.

True to Kolam’s history, the students sat on the floor and did their artwork. Some used colorful materials and crayons to create a geometrically-designed lotus flower, while others learned to decorate special lamps that are often used for weddings or placed at the entrance to a shrine.

One group arranged beads to create an Indian flag, while another used rice flour to make a design of whatever they wanted. Several of Swaminathan’s family members – including his wife, Abirami – helped guide the students through the activities.

After finishing their artwork, the students watched a video of an Indian dance, which they compared and contrasted to American ballet. Students were excited to talk about their creations and what they learned through the workshop.

“I’m fascinated about, like, how they do designs on the concrete and stuff,” a student named Carly said, and a student named Eddie said his favorite part about the workshop was “the creativity that’s popping into your head.”

Another student, Emma, said she was fascinated to learn about the culture of India.

“How the Indian people dance and how they do their artwork, I think it’s really interesting,” she said.

Swaminathan feels the workshop went really well and is excited about the possibility of offering other cultural education events to the entire school, such as a dance workshop, an event featuring live Indian musicians and an international night featuring Indian cuisine.

“I think a lot of the kids were quite excited about doing something different,” he said. “It was good about the kind of questions they were asking, and so they weren’t, like, being sort of passive, ‘OK, we’ve got to do this.’ They seemed to be quite involved. We’re going to try to do something throughout the academic year so every grade has a chance to do something.”

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