Maya (Sanskrit, माया): illusion
“Maya is the world of that rippling pond, the fractured, sparkling image of reality that is no reality but only its broken surface.” - Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal
Maya Between Borders blends Indian textile crafts and Western traditions of oil painting. Through these textiles and prints, I explore the borders that define memories of what comprises home and borders between the spiritual and the physical.
These fabrics, collected over my lifetime, recall gestures of family and everyday life. Women design and produce the traditional Indian fabrics featured in each piece. Indian women wear the traditional saree, and almost every saree has a border. The border design is integral to the overall composition, complementing the designs in the body of the saree, often depicting unique patterns and stories. Through architectural forms that mirror the traditional Indian weaving and block prints, these paintings build monuments to the spiritual icons that I call upon in the midst of daily routine.
These pieces represent the struggle of moving between the identities of an immigrant, a woman, and a mother. But also, they celebrate the life that exist between these identities and emotions. There is immense joy in recognizing that diversity in experiences opens the mind and the heart.
The Spiritual Icons
Circles and Dots
There are many interpretation of the bindi represented as dots and circles. According to tradition, the mark between the eyes represents the spiritual seat of consciousness: wisdom, the third eye, or ajna. Though it is mainly worn by women, it was once sexless. From Vedic times (5,000 years ago), it was used to worship the intellect of both men and women to ensure that thoughts, speech, and action become pure. The belief is that a strong intellect can help make decisions in life without fear. “Shakthi” uses this bindi to represent female power. According to tradition, shakthi represents cosmic energy, creation, and female power. The color blue represents the universe. This painting seeks to find universal human connections.
Lines and Rays
It is when the inner light - the ultimate light that is no light comes into manifestation that this maya veil is passed. - Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal
Light represents hope and enlightenment. It also reminds us that life is ephemeral, change is constant, but we have to keep searching for the light. Lines (ஒளி : oli) are a visual metaphor for these concepts in my paintings.
Indian men wear vibhuthi (three white lines) of ash on their foreheads during religious practices. The three lines, seen in “Shiva and Shakthi”, represent the power of will, knowledge and action. The ash represents the ephemeral nature of life and represents “Shiva” or the masculine. The circle represents “Shakthi” , the feminine and creation. They reside on Mount kailash, the temple. The circle is always placed over the three white lines. There is a balance in the composition. Balance between male and female energies brings harmony.
Temples are abstracted to a triangle. Temples represent places of respite and renewal. Sarees with temple borders are popular.
Sculpture and temple architecture are predominant forms of art in India. Symmetrical compositions dominates many of these art forms. Symmetry represents balance and it is integral to Indian art and spiritual practices like meditation and yoga. Body, mind, and soul are in harmony when one can achieve balance. The world then becomes harmonious.
Science and Technology
“Nature has created an inexhaustible wealth of wondrous forms whose beauty and diversity way exceed anything that has been created by man.” - Ernst Haeckel, 1899.
Ernst Haeckel, a zoologist used his artist hands to capture the beauty of single-celled organisms in the world’s oceans and catalogued them. “From the ocean” is a reminder of the diversity of this planet, and the importance of protecting the smallest and the most vulnerable inhabitants.
“Tree of Life no. 2 (Silicon)” reinterprets the tree of life, a symbol that connects all forms of creation by giving refuge and asylum. “Tree of Life no.2(Silicon)” is depicted in gold paint against the backdrop of Intel’s Atom computer chip. The translation of the billions of electronic circuits to brushwork brought together the ancient weaving techniques and the innovations in computer processor design that are woven through my personal history.
The silicon connects us to all corners of our planet in seconds today and can be a conduit to our understanding of The Other. A diversity of cultures have worked together in Silicon Valley to develop technology with the hope of bringing people together. I believe in the ideals of unity and strength in diversity, that we find sanctuary in connectedness.
Empathy, Ethics, Environment
The Khadi March was an act of civil disobedience led by Gandhi to fight the British empire. Khadi or khaddar is made of natural cotton fiber or silk. It is hand woven with a spinning wheel called a charkha. Gandhi encouraged Indians to wear homespun khadi, and not get swayed by materialism of the West. He called for the rejection of colonialist rule that relied on oppression and violence to sustain the demands of mass production. By relying solely on Indian production, the British could not enslave Indians and strip us of our humanity. Further, he encouraged India to connect with the self — and all the diversity within — through spiritual connections, gratitude, and self-reliance. Something as simple as a garment had the power to affect mass change and reach greater spiritual truths.
The ideals Gandhi purported are reflected in my immigrant spirit and everyday life. “Khadhi” is a reminder that our consumption today is not ethical. It is not mindful of the environment or the workers around the world. A life that relies on materialism, does not bring contentment and joy.
“Silenced but alive” is a tribute to all the women like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and the #MeToo movement. These women stood up to power, and even when they did not find justice they had the courage to continue fighting and living their life.
Maya Between Borders is not just about the remembrance of history, traditions, and the spiritual, but also a celebration of resistance. Resistance to oppression and injustice is important for human survival and the health of the planet. Resistance through a piece of cloth can be powerful.
I dedicate this series to my daughter Gowri Sunder, who introduced me to art when she was just seven years old. She has taught me about art, literature, philosophy, and psychology. I also want to thank my husband Ram Sunder and my son Vikram Sunder for believing in me and offering unwavering support. My technical growth in painting would not have happened without Artis Anima Studios in Palo Alto, friends at the studio, and Alan Chan.