Exploring Visual Arts across Madison
Feb 18, 2014
A Celebration of Indian Art
PHOTO COURTESY OF POONAM RAO
Traditional Indian paintings and crafts. Beautiful designs applied to candles, pottery and even baked goods. Elaborate henna painted on hands. There seems to be no limit to Poonam Rao’s creativity!
Rao grew up in India and has lived in the Madison area for seven years, working in information technology. Last year she launched Celebrations Art Studio. She not only creates work to be sold at festivals and local shops; she also teaches traditional Indian artistic techniques and donates art to local charities and fundraisers.
Rao recently answered a few questions about her artwork, inspirations and more.
Have you always been interested in art?
I spent my childhood in a traditionally and culturally rich environment. My maternal grandmother was an artist and specialized in crochet, knitting, embroidery, cross-stitch and sewing inclusive of culinary and gardening expertise. As kids, we always had a chance to wear her creations, see pieces of art adorning the walls of her home and play in beautiful gardens laden with tall trees and beautiful flowering shrubs. I grew to like and eventually love the crafting process of all things beautiful and tasteful.
My maternal aunt is a self-taught artist in fine arts. Most of my summer school vacations were at her home with afternoons planned for painting handkerchiefs, tablecloths, pillow covers and so on. I got my initial lessons from her in fabric painting and the techniques of oil on glass paintings.
My mom, a businesswoman, did not have the time for creating arts but would do henna/mehendi for me and my sister on special occasions. In addition, she would encourage small art businesses and local craftsmen by purchasing their artworks. We would also visit a lot of regional and state art exhibitions. Since the school years and until I completed my master’s, I was pursuing training in different forms of Indian handicrafts.
Furthermore, my travel to the temples and caves of India added to my growing interests. These travels were mostly via railroads, proving ample opportunities to see, feel and experience regional arts sold by train and platform vendors. Growing up in a home filled with love, art and love for art made it just natural for me to be passionate about arts and crafts.
What made you decide to launch Celebrations Art Studio?
They say every symphony needs a conductor and every artist needs a motivator! There are multiple factors that governed the decision for launching Celebrations.
Over the years, I have learned more than fifty forms of Indian artworks. I wanted to leverage my skills and provide avenues for my kids to learn Indian arts while at the same time spread awareness of the traditional art forms in the area.
In my own small way, I wanted to share the miraculous world of tribal arts with the world, attempt to keep it alive and hoping to pass on to future generations to cherish and appreciate.
Last but not least, I felt I could give back to the community by helping local charities through the medium of art.
Tell me about the art you create.
I love to create ethnic Indian art, much of which constitutes tribal art forms. I have spent years researching each of them and intrigued by the art forms, their origins, history and rudimentary techniques. Some of the art forms include:
• Warli tribal art: Tribal painting from the state of Thane, Maharashtra, India. These paintings depict the daily lives of villagers doing activities like hunting, fishing, farming, dancing, building thatched huts, wood cutting, etc.
• Madhubani tribal art: Tribal painting from Mithila, Bihar, India. These paintings are famous for the depiction of Hindu deities adorned with jewels and holding a diverse variety of weapons, as well as for the intricate borders with floral patterns.
• Kalighat paintings: Tribal painting from Kalighat, Bengal, India, depicting gods and goddesses. I also love recreating the works of artist Jamini Roy.
• Kutch Art/Lippan Kaam: Traditional painting from Kutch, Gujarat, India, characterized by use of mud and mirrors.
• Cold Ceramics: These works represent the palaces and murals of the olden times.
• Pen sketching: Sketching the village scenes of India away from the concrete jungle. Artist Milind Mulick has been my inspiration.
• Wood burning: This includes portraits and scenes of nature. I also create custom framed art with requested words.
• Plus, stained glass, oils on glass and canvas, candles and wooden frames (henna is used to create them), Indian handicrafts, cakery incorporating Indian motifs and patterns, henna body art, face painting including Indian motifs, sand painting, nib painting and fabric painting.
What is it about traditional Indian arts that interests you?
Indian arts dates back to third millennium BC and is characterized by a strong sense of design, each unique representing and speaking of the culture and history of a certain tribe, region or state. The art varies from ornate, elaborate, sensuous, vivacious, pastoral, rudimentary and raw. I find Indian visual arts intriguing.
How does henna fit into the picture?
For me, henna is just another medium of art and in recent times more of a fashion statement. I love to practice that in its original body art form. Most of the time, I do henna for brides, teens and women. In addition to weddings, henna gets incorporated into various celebrations like birthday parties, graduation parties, baby showers, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, and so on.
Last year, I launched a new product line, introducing henna on candles and wooden frames. Glitter henna is an option for my clientele looking for body art.
You also decorate cakes and other goodies. What got you going in that?
Sugar is always tempting, art is always fascinating! I wanted to blend the two together and that was the start of Celebrations’ cakery experimentation. I have created henna patterns on cakes, cupcakes, cookies and ice-cream cakes. In addition, I create doll cakes adorning Indian outfits made with icing! Some of these include Kuchipudi, dancers, bharathnatyam dancers, saree, etc.
Teaching is part of Celebrations. Can you tell me about that?
I love teaching. There’s a sense of joy and satisfaction in sharing and spreading awareness about Indian culture and artworks. I teach at libraries, recreation departments or sometimes as a guest speaker at museums and public events.
Where can people find your work?
The Chazen Museum of Art, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Imperial Gardens East, the International Festival at Overture Center, city Gallery Nights, art exhibits throughout the town and [in my] online studio.
What do you hope people get from seeing your art?
I am looking to create awareness of the Indian art forms and hoping that it generates interest in owning one of my Indian artworks or trying a henna cake or cookie for [an] event to make it unique.
What’s next for you?
My goal is to provide a platform to sell Indian artworks at a national level via an online portal. I want to continue exploring additional forms of tribal arts.
Learn more about Celebrations Art Studio at facebook.com/CelebrationsArtStudio.