On the South Indian folk art of Kolams as Algorithmic Pattern?


I’ve recently taken wholesome interest in Kolams after listening to Eglash’s older talks on African fractal patterns and recently, “computing for generative justice”. Kolams have been studied in mathematics and computing for their fractal symmetries and recursive qualities. What is also interesting to consider is that this is very much a living open-source women’s art practice (the practice runs within my family and in South India at large), and it is taking new turns towards becoming a computational art practice, in addition to the incredible growth of Kolam artists on social media (especially during the pandemic). I’ve recently purchased the book ‘FEEDING A THOUSAND SOULS. Women, Ritual, and Ecology in India: An exploration of Kolam’ by Vijaya Nagarajan, and I can see the chapter (7) on Embodied Mathematics being particularly interesting to discuss in this forum (relates to Stiny’s shape grammars as well – From Shape Grammars to Making Grammars).

I quote an intriguing excerpt from the chapter - “Mackay suggests that ‘once having identified as symmetrical, we can divide it [kolam] into motif and rule of repetition. This is, wee can see on two levels at once; the level of physical structure and the level of informational or organisational structure’ (1986, 190). That the informational or organisational structure is in fact us seeing that symmetrical form from outside of it, is especially intriguing. Mackay extends this to Gödel’s paradox: ‘In looking at an apparently closed symmetrical system we see that is not, after all, closed.’ The implication is that as the outside perceiver, we are seeing the closed system, but in fact it is not, as we are also part of another quite larger system, though this one is harder for us to perceive. In other words, if we can identify an object as symmetrical, or as proportional [or as pattern], then by definition, we have the perception of an outsider who can see that symmetry from outside that very symmetry, implying a higher order of hierarchy behind the perception of symmtery.”

If anyone is interested in this topic/wants to work with me on hybrid computational practices inspired by Kolam, please let me know :slight_smile:

Anuradha Reddy (interdisciplinary researcher in the field of interaction design)