Sunday, October 6, 2013

Contemporary yet Traditional Mandala

              Mandalas fascinate me. Even before I knew about the spiritual, religious, cosmic, or scientific meanings behind the Mandala, I was drawn to the beauty and symmetry in these contemplative interwoven and layered visuals.   

             The word ‘Mandala’ originating from the ancient Indian language Sanskrit loosely translated means ‘circle’. But this simple word translation fails to convey the complexity of this integrated structure that is always organized around a unifying center. It denotes wholeness. Another translation is derived from the root ‘manda’ meaning essence and ‘la’ meaning container; which gives the connotation of mandala meaning container of essence.

             We find representations of Mandalas in all aspects of our life; as literal and obvious representations, in the planet circles, or as the conceptual circle of family, friends, and community. They are also one of the world’s few elements that has transcended boundaries and is visible through all of known time, space, and cultures…in the medicine wheels and sand mandalas of the native Indian Americans, in the timekeeping device and religious expressions of the ancient circular Aztec calendar, in the Taoist yin-yang symbol representing opposition and independence, as the intricate illustrations for meditative focus in Tibetan religion, in sand paintings used in Navajo and Tibetan rituals. In architecture across Buddhist stupas, Muslim mosques, or cathedrals it has been used as the principle of design- shapes and structures built around a center or axis where all components contribute equally to the whole. Mandala includes and represents us as a part of the microcosm and macrocosm of the universe.


               I have used Mandalas in my drawings, paintings, stitchery, décor choices, and even doodling. You can see it in one of my documented projects in my blog, the end table redo ‘Mumtaz’. You will also see it in another one of my upcoming projects 'Ashoka'. In this particular project, I decided to make a contemporary yet traditional mandala. The multi-useful canvas was my goto for this even though I had never stitched on one before: the canvas is already framed and finished, perfect for this quick two-hour project, would tie-in with my 5-canvas wall art piece that you all have heard me talking about, and wasn’t going to cause me to cry if I messed up in this first attempt. I don’t know why I didn’t think of or discover the canvas in these years before; oh! The innumerable ways it can be used in!

             In terms of design choice of the mandala, I picked one that had straight lines to make it easier to stitch on a stiff canvas and one that wasn’t too traditional looking. There’s a bit of interesting math associated with this design that I have included as a footnote for all those interested.

             I used a tapestry needle and embroidery floss for this. Surprisingly, it was fairly easy to stitch on the canvas than I had imagined. For my floss color choice, I had three options: all done in one color, a color gradient of cool colors like blue, and the color gradient of warm colors like orange. Since orange is the accent color in my daughter’s room, I opted for a gradient moving from red through orange to pale yellow. Ideally in stitchery you do not knot the floss ends and simply run the ends under existing stitches. But in this case I knotted the ends to ensure tension.


                  My self-critical review would include that I wish I had used a larger canvas, I love how this turned out! (but in my defense I didn’t find a larger square canvas) and I think a black canvas would have been more dramatic (to explain my choice of a white canvas… this had to be a part of the 5-canvas piece).

1.    This pattern was taken from ‘Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach’ by Keith Critchlow
2.    The Mandala Project

     As written in ‘Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach’ by Keith Critchlow 
     In this drawing we see a twelve-square arrangement shown as a harmonic growth pattern which can be taken as a master diagram, or archetypal proportioning diagram, used by craft schools of Islamic art down the ages, to demonstrate controlled proportional decrease or increase; in this the very smallest circular arrangement of twelve squares relates proportionally by nine stages to the largest outer group. Each set of squares is harmonically larger than its predecessor by 2. In other words, if the smallest square of any two consecutive sets has a side of 1 unit, the volume of the next square is two, using the same unit of measure. Or again, the diagonal of the smaller square, which is 2 if the edge is 1 unit, is the edge length of the next larger square in each case; hence the apparent spiral of growth, is on a harmonic progression on 2. Viewed in this way, this diagram can provide, by harmonic diminution or augmentation, a proportional guide for the design of an entire building or a single tile.