Evanston artist Indira Johnson advocates peace through collaborative Rangoli drawing


Jack Austin/Daily Senior Staffer

The center of the Rangoli created and featured at Chicago Cultural Center. Participants used flour, rice, turmeric, flower petals, dirt and leaves to fill in the large drawing.

Jack Austin, Senior Staffer

Evanston artist and sculptor Indira Johnson offered Chicago Cultural Center visitors an opportunity to engage in an intricate community art project aiming to promote peace, unity and blessings on Friday and Saturday. 

Over several hours, participants used rice flour, turmeric, dirt, flower petals and leaves to decorate a Rangoli — a large traditional Indian floor art piece containing an assemblage of materials. Volunteers were given the same opportunity on Friday, Sept. 30, when Johnson kicked off the series. 

“Some people say it’s very meditative,” Johnson said. “All together, you have made this beautiful pattern. And I think that’s a realization that people have that together we can accomplish so much.”

Rangoli is an ancient folk art form employing geometric and floral patterns and religious symbols, filled with vibrantly colored materials. Many people create rangoli as part of the celebration of Diwali, the festival of the lights, which is recognized by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. The intricate drawings are meant to give blessings and ward off evil spirits. 

Rangoli drawings are temporary, a fleeting beauty, Johnson said. The Chicago Cultural Center held a closing ceremony Saturday, wiping away the elaborate artwork. During the ritual, participants discussed the blessings they wanted for themselves and their communities, Johnson said. 

Johnson is known for her sculptures of Buddha heads that can be found across the Chicago area, including in Evanston. She said her father followed the teachings of Gandhi, a reason she explores nonviolence and peace through her artwork. 

White sculptures on a green field in front of several buildings.
Johnson’s permanent sculpture installation. The emerging heads represent how as humans, we are always emerging, she said. One of many in the city, the installation is located in Lincoln Park.
(Jack Austin/Daily Senior Staffer)

Johnson’s series at the center marks the 10th anniversary of her multi-medium project promoting public art, peace and civic engagement, “Ten Thousand Ripples.”

Johsnon said she has hosted about 30 rangoli drawings around the Chicago area and said the projects bring the community together. 

Martin Bautista said the creation process relaxed him, instilling a sense of tranquility. Bautista said the materials made him feel a connection to the Earth. 

A characteristic Buddha head was featured at the site of the drawing, and Johnson said she uses it as an icon of peace. 

Antonio Nino, a California resident visiting his son in Chicago, attended the event and said he enjoyed creating for the sake of creating. 

“It’s a special feeling that you’re doing something for the purpose of beauty,” Nino said. “I think it’s important (and rewarding) in terms of (how) beauty has a purpose by itself.”

A former publicist for the Chicago Cultural Center, Kennon Reinard said she admires Johnson’s work throughout Chicago. 

When Reinard came to the cultural center Saturday, she immediately wanted to smell the materials — particularly the flowers. Reinard, who was tasked with filling in dirt on a section of the drawing, said she was impressed with the overall design. 

“It reminded me of a mandala … very organic floral,” Reinard said. “It starts off as a central core, jutts out and it keeps going and expanding like the Earth like the universe.”

Johnson said when the community walks over the drawing, it reflects the cycle of life. 

Nino said the drawing experience was rewarding and that beauty has a purpose within itself.

“It has to live and disappear,” Nino said. “It’s beautiful.”

Flowers, chalk and dirt coalesce to form what looks like a hand.
A close shot of one of the edges of the drawing. Community members had the opportunity to work on the drawing on Friday and Saturday, as well as Friday, Sept. 30, at the Chicago Cultural Center. (Jack Austin/Daily Senior Staffer)

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