Student Exhibition Year
"An 'Onam pookalam' is a 'floral carpet' typically created by the women of a household at the time of Onam, Kerala's harvest festival. Modern celebrations of Onam are rooted in both cultural and religious customs that have been practiced over generations. In this piece, I invoke the presence of my loved ones by using shredded pieces of their traditional clothing in lieu of flower petals. As I continue to navigate my Malayalee-American identity, this piece recognizes the role that my family as well as the community, including those visiting the exhibition, have played in my development. I invite you to become part of my ongoing journey and help me complete this piece by filling in areas of the pookalam using saree shreds corresponding to the colors on the canvas."
Presented as part of the 2023 Annual Student Exhibit in the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College.
A Language I Understand
I’ve often felt languageless. It’s funny because I grew up in a household that spoke two—English and the south Indian language, Malayalam. And yet, when asked, ‘tell me about yourself or “what’s on your mind,” neither language seems to suffice. Returning to my family’s ancestral home in Kerala, India, after nearly five years, I finally found my “language”; it has no words at all. The language I feel ownership of is a sensory one—the soupy, gooey curries my grandmother makes, five yards of artisan-crafted sareefabric, and the colorful traditions of South India.
The exhibited body of work adopts this visual language to narrate the story of three generations of women in my family: my paternal grandmother, my mother, and myself. My alphabet is a collection of sarees from my late (maternal) grandmother, which I hesitantly “borrowed” from a suitcase full of her untouched belongings. I transform these garments through folding, ripping, and shredding techniques, reformatting the resulting fragments to create multi-dimensional works drawing on the iconic cuisine, fashion, and traditions of the coastal state of Kerala. These works become, therefore, “cut from the same cloth.” Their subject matter—a gluttonous dish called chatti (pot) chor (rice), the pursuit of a perfectly pleated saree, and an “onam pookalam”—reveal the unfulfilled desires of the three women. The work featured in this exhibition depicts an imagined set of circumstances—my grandmother feels her family is well-fed, my mom achieves perfect saree pleats, I create community around my mixed cultural upbringing. The culmination of my studio practice at Ursinus is a singular, simple truth—despite temporal and geographic distance, I’m not so different from the maternal figures in my life after all.
 A saree is a traditional garment worn South Asian women, created from a long, rectangular fabric draped across the body.
 A ‘floral carpet’ or mural typically created in a circular form to celebrate a local, multi-day harvest festival, Onam.
Copyright of the underlying work is held by the artist. The digital image presented here is for educational purposes only and is not for commercial use.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 International License.
student art exhibit, 2023, saree fabric, acrylic on canvas, baskets, floral carpet