The decorative art of India's painted prayers

The decorative art of India's painted prayers

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"It is dark, but the glimmer of pre-dawn light touches the eastern sky. Mari and her young daughter Sita emerge from the doorway of their mud house. They carry small metal bowls of white powder ground from parboiled rice. Mari dips an index finger into her bowl and bends to mark out a grid of white dots beneath her feet. With movements practiced, fluid and graceful, she paints the curves of leaves and vines, the loops of petals, and straight edges of stems. Eight-year-old Sita copies her technique in lines more shaky and unsure; the two sides of the pattern merge into one. It is a lotus vine — the symbol of the goddess that protects family and home, painted to encourage her beneficence and to keep evil from entering the house. The designs are quickly smudged as the sun rises and people move in and out of the house."

With these words art historian Stephen Huyler introduces his photographic tour of Indian domestic painting in Painted Prayers: Women's Art in Village India, a new book published by Rizzoli. Huyler became interested in these ritual artworks on his first trip to India in 1971 and has returned every year since to document them. Fifty of his striking images will be on exhibit at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from July 23 to April 7, 1996.

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