4. Studying Kavaads

In autumn of last year, I began studying kavaads and began seriously wondering how in the world I was going to make one. I had never before made a three dimensional story-box. I had never painted on wood. I hadn’t a clue about the structure of a kavaad or how the story unfolds. I thought I may put off the project, but then Juliana Salcedo, Esther Gomez (colleagues from the workshop) and Gustavo Puerta (our maestro) got together and somehow convinced me to take part in a collective exhibition in the autumn of 2015 at the Cala de Chodes.

I panicked. I had a lot of ongoing professional and personal projects on my plate. At the same time I knew that if I didn’t commit to a deadline, I would never finish the kavaad. So I said yes, knowing that the following year would be utter madness. And it was.

Through the madness though, some wonderful and magical things happened.

First of all, only weeks after our first meeting, the exhibition Akhyan travelled from India to the Teatro Valle Inclan in Madrid.  What I thought to be an exhibit of masks from india turned out to include a collection of storytelling formats such as phads (scrolls), shadow puppets and kavaads. I visited the tiny space several times and upon Gustavo’s suggestion, asked permission to settle myself down on the floor and sketch one of the kavaad’s on display in detail.

Here are some photos and sketches.


Then, a few weeks later, my favorite festival of the year approached. Diwali is the festival of lights, and is celebrated by clearing out all that is old, broken and negative and welcoming the new, positive and energetic. I decided that if I made my diwali greeting based on the structure of a kavaad it may help me get over my inhibitions.

It seemed to work! I began to understand how the kavaad worked. Kavaads traditionally tell religious and epic stories from hindu mythology. There were two accordeon like doors which were each made up of at least 3 panels each. One door closed over the other and when each one was completely opened, the entire story was revealed on both sides: front and back. The story is told visually using small vignettes with images and sometimes sanskrit or hindi text.


The inside of the kavaad always has an inner temple with double doors that usually have guardians of the temple painted on each side. In the temple is the shrine to the god or godess (the protagonist) of the story.

So I began thinking about my little elephant’s child again, and about how in my interpretation of the story although he is just an elephant, there is something godlike about him that only the snake knows about and that he unveils when he undergoes his transformation and gets his trunk.

My diwali greeting was in a paper fold-out of the inner temple. On the outer doors I drew myself and my husband Juan as guardians of the temple. Inside I drew the elephant’s child with a full trunk and as the embodiment of the Lord Ganesha. In the inner doors I drew scenes and details from the story.

I printed the work on little colored cards for all of my guests and had a wonderful diwali.


(As I write this entry, a year later, Diwali has just come and gone again, only a few days ago…Happy diwali to you and yours full of light and energy.)



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