Vidya Shyamsundar is a self-taught artist, muralist, and educator whose work focuses on mandala art, a meditative geometric art form and landscape art that features elements of both abstraction and realism. She was born and raised in Southern India, and now calls the United States her second home.
Her debut into the art world was truly a happy accident. She took an art class for a change from her daily routine and art became her passion over the last few years. Vidya shows her work in open studio tours, group art shows, gallery exhibitions, and at her own home studio. Her mural works can be found in yoga studios and public community arts. She also offers teaching workshops at her art studio, local art centers, and on-site private events.
Vidya holds a degree in Economics & Finance, previously worked in the business industry and later chose to be a stay-at-home mom. She lives in Downingtown PA with her husband, her two daughters of ages 15 & 10, and enjoys organizing and decorating spaces outside of art making.
Often, we desire moments of solace in our everyday lives. My symbolic mandalas and imaginary landscapes offer a momentary retreat, revealing a path to connect with our inner selves.
The word mandala, meaning “circles” in Sanskrit, is a centuries old geometric meditative art practiced by Buddhist and Hindu traditions, a spiritual symbol representing the universe. They are a sign to welcome people into the home, a tribute to harmonious co-existence, and thought to bring prosperity. Mandalas are viewed as a great tool to meditate and are believed to transmit positive energy to the surroundings. The symmetrical geometric patterns on a mandala help achieve focus and clarity and facilitates the effect of purification and healing.
In India, mandalas are drawn to decorate porches, doorways, walls, and courtyards, and the symbols and motifs may vary based on region, family, occasion, and designated spaces in a home. The name for mandalas is defined by its style. For example, a Kolam is drawn using rice paste, rice flour, or white chalk; a Rangoli is made with colored sand; a Pookalam is arranged with colorful petals and flowers; a Seed mandala is made with lentils and pulses and so on.
Photo Credit: Collage
Pookalam, Visage; Kolam Drawing, Reddees; Rangoli, B.R. Ramana Reddi; Rangoli, Rakesh Pichaliya; Rangoli, Rupesh Kumar Karki
Photo #1: Kolam Design by Kolam Artist, Sekharipuram Bala Subramanian; Photo Credit (Center & #3): Mylapore Kolam Festival, Santosh, Sant's Fotos
For centuries, Kolams have remained the bastion of women. Perhaps, the ritual of drawing a mandala required posture, rhythm, and patience which symbolized a woman’s role of bringing unity and structure to her family. During festivities and weddings, women would draw eye-catching Kolams with meticulous precision and symmetry by intertwining lines, loops, and curves around circles or squares. It's absolutely a breathtaking scene of greatness and glory to the eyes of the beholder.
Photo Credit: Palakkad Map, Ivon Murugesan; Photo Credit: Kolam Design, Santosh, Sant's Fotos
I was raised in a small quaint village named Kalpathy, located in the city of Palakkad in the State of Kerala, India. Mandala drawing was a significant part of my community’s culture – a truly sacred and meditative form of expression drawn by women folk. It was a ritual that was honored and practiced by certain family groups. I enjoyed gazing at my mother building geometric patterns by pinching rice flour using her unmanicured fingertips with spontaneity and grace. Her mornings began with art making by preparing a smooth cement floor which was swept with a broom, washed with a pail of water, and dried with a mop to establish a holy feel. A new mandala was made every day before dawn no matter if it would eventually get washed off by rain, swept away by wind, or smeared around by playful children. Mandala making is a sacred ritual symbolizing the impermanence of human existence. Perhaps, the years I spent admiring my mother’s innate ability to create magnificent mandalas with her natural style and flair subconsciously burrowed into my mind and became the source of my artistic revelation in my late thirties.
Photo Credit: Flower Rangoli, Subodhsathe
I was brought up in a pious middle-class household. My extended family celebrated every religious event and festivity with diligence and devotion. Making a mandala was a part of my family’s everyday ritual. During any religious performance, massive mandalas were made with rice paste. A bit of red powder established the central point of the mandala where the ceremony was performed, presided over by a priest chanting prayer. My family invited friends and neighbors to partake in the occasions which were followed by serving a special homemade feast.
My upbringing provided me an opportunity to understand the significance of family rituals, the power of prayer and spirituality, and the value of community connections. Sharing a piece of my cultural heritage through mandalas brings me a sense of belonging; a pathway to reunite with my childhood home. Although I have Indian roots, I respect and embrace the beauty and integrity of multi-cultural traditions that influence our lives. I believe that we must continue to learn and accept each other with love and respect.
Photo Credits: Garba Dance Indian Folk Dress, Akshay Thaker; Jasmine Flower in Hand, Tatomm; South Indian Meals on Banana Leaf, Bonchan
My debut into the art world was truly a happy accident. I would have never thought that signing up for an art class as an avenue for distraction from chores would steer me into a world of possibilities that I am pursuing now. Art making became my hobby, and then my passion; a journey that I cherish.
Drawing and painting a mandala is a way to feel closer to my home. Here in my home studio in Downingtown PA, I pick up my tiny paint brush to make colorful, intricate symmetrical patterns with lines, loops, and curves working organically from the center outwards. I am focused. I feel a sense of calmness and clarity. I capture glimpses of my childhood while I am engrossed in making my mandala patterns. I can see reflections of vibrant color, I can smell the sweet fragrance of Jasmine, I can feel the power of chanting mantras, I can hear the noise of people chattering and children giggling in the background, and I can taste the aromatic Indian delicacies: a sign of celebration, unity, and harmony. I resume my painting with silence reminiscing my childhood joy. Gently, I put my paint brush down, and my thoughts begin to fade away. Through symbolism and motifs, a message continues to resonate: Nothing in life is permanent. We learn to move forward in our lives, chasing our dreams and holding on to the power of faith. I pick up my paint brush, and continue to paint; to reunite…
My mandala paintings begin with preparing my surface by applying gesso, which offers a base for adhesion of the paint. Next, I begin applying layers of color using acrylic medium to create the background. This is the only instance I use large flat brushes. Next, I add texture. My favorite tools when creating texture include sponges, stencils, foam stamps, paper, paper towels, old credit cards etc. My color palette varies between warm and cool tones or a combination of both. All materials used are archival.
Before I begin drawing the mandala patterns, I mark the center point. Depending on the size of the surface area, I either use a compass, or a string tied to a pencil. Patterns are then made with a pencil using lines, loops, and curves starting from the center and working outwards. The process is very organic and meditative. Next, I follow the pencil drawings and use a zero-size brush to paint the mandala. Finally, I apply varnish to seal and protect the painting. The uniqueness of my paintings are my style, intricacy, and precision.
My intuitive landscapes are a representation of my exploration into an imaginary world. I take the stance of a fearless child with unlimited curiosity who believes in magic. Wandering toward my inner self I connect with holy spirits. In this realm, the skies can be purple, the earth can be pink, or the flowers can be green. There are no expectations, judgements, or rules of any kind. I view painting a landscape as an avenue that helps rejuvenate my energy and admire the beauty of the universe with a unique perspective.
In my joint family home with my father as the only bread winner, there were scant discretionary resources to go on vacations. I admired my hardworking parents and understood their limitations. I used to gaze at the wall mural painted outside my school. It had a brown background with a white rectangular pane with four children looking out the window. I used to picture myself as one among them and imagined going to beautiful places. One of my favorite scenes was visualizing myself in snowy mountains to feel the presence of silence and solitude.
I use various types of surfaces for my landscapes. They include tempered hardboard, canvas, Claybord, Acquabord, Yupo, and mixed media paper. I like painting with several different media such as acrylics, alcohol inks, gouache, pen, and ink etc. I like to work intuitively. I also use different gel media and embellishments to add interesting effects to my landscapes. My favorite tools to create textures include sponges, stencils, foam stamps, foam, paper, paper towels, old credit cards, toothpicks, coffee stirrers etc. When I paint landscapes, I often mix media to give a fascinating dimension by building layers of paint, textures, and patterns with attention to detail and intricacy. My approach is distinctive, depicting a mysterious paradise with the energy of colors and mystic shapes.