You started practising rangoli at the age of five. So what drew you to it?
I first fell in love with rangoli growing up in India when I used to watch my mother create rangoli on the floor at home. The floors were quite muddy, and it was the contrast of the white rice powder against the dark brown ground that caught my eye.
Have you done anything “unexpected” in the pursuit of your passion?
Well, I took a Master’s degree in Art Therapy 15 years ago, when I was 48 years old!
It was a two-year course, including a six-month attachment at a rehabilitation centre for the elderly.
How was the journey like?
It was fulfilling, but didn’t come without its challenges. One of those challenges I faced was using the computer for school work. My daughter taught me how to use the computer so that I could submit my assignments online. My family also helped me with the household chores so that I could spend more time revising my school work.
The course was quite demanding emotionally and mentally. We were required to visit a psychologist every month for a year to help us better process our own emotions to prepare us before facing our patients.
After completing my Master’s degree, my hope was to continue building my knowledge in art therapy and chasing my passion by pursuing a PhD in rangoli; there are only a handful of people in the world who obtained a PhD in rangoli.
(Photo by Type A)
Besides being a renowned rangoli artist, you are also a trained art therapist and a special educator for more than 15 years. Why did you choose to pursue a career in art therapy and special education?
I started my career as a kindergarten teacher in 1993. After a series of major surgeries, I was told by my doctor that I couldn’t work for six months. But I just couldn’t sit at home either! So I started volunteering at an autism centre. It left a deep impression on me and I decided to leave the kindergarten and took up a teaching position at a social service organisation that helps children with special needs. It was then that I took a special education diploma in autism.
I have used rangoli and different kinds of art forms and styles in my art therapy approach. My special needs students require structure and routine; they also like colours and shapes. So, my art lessons are also very structured to cater to their needs.
I have also conducted art therapy lessons for hospital patients. They really enjoy these sessions as it calms them, especially if they’re waiting for their medical test results or to pass time. Sometimes, the hospital nurses, doctors and cleaners join in the sessions as well!
What motivates and invigorates you when conducting art therapy lessons?
Just being able to understand someone from their drawings; I don’t even have to talk to them. Something like how an astrologer reads a person’s horoscope, I can look at someone’s art and get a good sense of what kind of person they are, including their inner thoughts and feelings.
(Photo by Type A)
Do you see more young people being interested in Rangoli?
When I teach rangoli art in schools, I’ve observed that the younger generation is interested in it. Especially the boys – they would tell me that it’s very calming. So, I hope that the younger generation will learn and share it with their friends. I even have a social media page to reach out to more young people!
Thanks for talking to us Mdm Vijaya. Happy Deepavali to you and your family! How will you be celebrating it this year?
Now that we can gather in bigger groups again, I’ll be inviting my family and friends for one big celebration. My grandchildren and I will even create a big rangoli together!
– Mdm Vijaya Mohan, 63, Rangoli Artist