American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist Jane Jacobs, who deeply influenced discourses involving urban studies, sociology, and economics in the latter half of the twentieth century, coined the phrase ‘eyes on the street’ to highlight the safety provided by a vibrant neighbourhood to the community living there. Jacob’s phrase is used here to draw attention to the fact that the locality in Bangalore where I conducted an individual enquiry through photographic explorations of street art imagery, Vasanthnagar, has a rich social structure due to the presence of many communities living and working there. This locality comprises both big and small streets that serve a mix of functions and are used for various activities addressing the needs of both elite and non-elite residential communities. I live on one of these streets and walk in the locality almost daily, encountering rangolis and kolams, as do many other people traversing these streets. The images below, selected from my personal archive, show different renditions and translations of this floor art. These images are offered by means of a visual introduction to the range of representations and media involved in this particular floor art practice. 


Varying Contexts and Media 

The images indicate that kolam has evolved into a wide variety and range of sophisticated forms. A range of complex and patterned drawings display traditional Indian symbols of auspiciousness and prosperity incorporated into their iconography, such as the vase of plenty, lotus symbols, and sacred trees. Locations where these images were taken involve people of different socio-economic groups, from street-hut dwellings to upper-class elite homes. The occasions range from festivals and birthday celebrations to memorials. The traditional location of the street has also been transcended and the kolam has been reappropriated for other objectives that emphasise both its aesthetic and symbolic value, for example, the furnishing at Bangalore Airport.

Both rice powder as a traditional material for drawing and the kolam design process have been appropriated for learning purposes. A Bangalore school has engaged students effectively in learning mathematical concepts by using the principles of joining dots as seen in kolam-making to create lines. By using rice material on the school floor, the sensual qualities of the material enhance the ways in which mathematical concepts are taught, thereby making the experience a novel one for students accustomed to traditional pencil tools and paper and desk surfaces. 

The representations in these kolams are mostly symmetrical designs ranging from simple to highly complex, and stylised along various lines, from geometric to curvilinear and complex compositions, using abstract, symbolic, and iconographic imagery. Both types of representational content, pictorial and typographical, are seen on different surfaces such as textiles and marble flooring, and in locations other than homes, such as at airports and in schools. While the practice has non-ritual applications such as its use in education, the tradition still honoured through rangoli and kolam today is the custom of greeting people, be it at the entrance of a home or on a carpet at an airport.