Why Art History Matters: Response-Renate Dohmen to Mark Fearbunce

Renate Dohmen responds to Mark Feabunce’s post on kolam

Thank you for sharing this fascinating project in your blogpost, I am so pleased that my discussion of women’s street art in Tamil Nadu inspired you to do this, and by the looks of it, the students really enjoyed it too.

There are a few things I did not get around to discussing in my text for the MA in Art History at the Open University, so allow me to add a few comments here.

You mention the creativity with which students approached the drawing of the designs by using paper cones etc… rather than executing the designs by hand in the traditional fashion. In fact this is very much the spirit in how the drawing of these designs is approached in India as well. I discussed the practice as it is traditionally executed, but in busy, modern day India, easy approaches to producing such designs have been devised, such as the use of stencils and stencil rollers. You can also buy plastic stickers that you can simple attach to the desired space, and I have even seen a small robot programmed to draw such designs on the Internet. Your students therefore well and truly entered into the creative spirit of engaging with this practice!

I also was not able to show some more modern-style Tamil designs, nor to give examples of the traditional designs in other parts of India which are more representational than in Tamil Nadu, as you also mentioned to your students. The drawing of animals, particularly the peacock or birds, and of flowers, and all manner of other objects are commonly found in such designs, and, depending on the regional tradition, might lean to a greater or lesser degree towards abstraction. Yet there is no sense of individual ownership of the designs, which really does challenges one’s assumptions about art and visual practice and brings home some key aspects of what Eurocentricity in the arts entails. Questions of authenticity, which you discussed with your students, are also central issues in this regard, so great to see this raised.

More ‘modern’ kolam designs speaking to education at the Osmania University College for Women (once the British Residency), Hyderabad, January 2018 (photo by Leah R Clark)

Floral designs at the Osmania University College for Women, Hyderabad, January 2018 (photo by Leah R Clark)

I was also very interested in the placing of the design on a speed bump, this is an intriguing engagement with the ephemeral aspect of the tradition, and I loved your ‘Post-Kolam’ challenge – what exciting work, thank you for sharing!

Renate Dohmen, Lecturer in Art History, The Open University

For an overview of the MA in Art History, see the Art History Department’s website or take a taster course on Open Learn on Artists and Authorship: The Case of Raphael

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *