Professor prints, weaves Indian culture into Hartsfield-Jackson

By Curt Yeomans


Julia Kjelgaard was entranced by the bright colors and conflicting nature of India when she visited the Southeast Asian nation last year.

Kjelgaard saw a nation that was always on the move in some places, and tranquil in other spots. She saw extremely rich people, and she saw extremely poor people living in the same cities.

Kjelgaard, who is a professor of visual art at Emory University, felt inspired to do something which showed India, the way she saw it, to the rest of the world. As a result, she created a series of nine pieces of work, which brought printing, painting and sewing together, called Indo Indicia.

The images used in Indo Indicia show everyday life in India, and give viewers an inside glimpse of Indian culture.

"India is such an interesting place," Kjelgaard said. "I wanted to create something that represented the contrasts which exist in that country."

Indo Indicia will be on display in the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport until March 19. The works in the exhibit are images which start out as photographs. The images are printed on pieces of canvas. Kjelgaard then adds paint in some areas, and hand-stitched embroidery in other places.

One piece shows small images of doors and locks, followed by a massive circle which shows Indian people in a crowded train depot. Kjelgaard said scenes like the one in the depot are typical in India. "There's always something happening," she said. "It's like being in a parade that's always going on, and you're in the middle of it all."

Other pieces show other sides to life in India, such as tranquil images of ancient sculptures and temples, and poor neighborhoods, and power plants. On top of these images, Kjelgaard has embroidered rows of overlapping circles, flowers and intersecting lines which form squares on the printed and painted images.

Kjelgaard's specialty is drawing and painting. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of California-Santa Barbara, and a master's degree from the University of Michigan. Kjelgaard, who lives in Auburn, Ala., also studied printmaking at the University of Alberta in Canada in the mid-1980s, according to her biography on artsearch.com.

She has received the Kala Fellowship, the Hambidge Center Fellowship, and the Alabama Council for the Arts Fellowship. She has also received research, and travel grants, from Michigan, Emory and the University of Wyoming. The Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the Huntsville (Ala.) Museum of Art, the Butler Museum of Art, and the Kala Institute are some of the places where Kjelgaard's work has been put on display.

David Vogt, the special programs manager for the airport's art program, said Kjelgaard's work is one of seven exhibits which will be on display in the atrium this year. Vogt, and Catherine Marbury, another special programs manager for the art program, visited Kjelgaard a year ago on the recommendation of another artist who thought the Emory professor's work would fit in at the airport.

The art which goes on display at the airport, in either permanent or rotating displays, is selected based on quality, subject matter and how well it fits in at the airport. Vogt said he and Marbury were impressed by the samples Kjelgaard had in her Emory office during the visit, because of the unusual nature of the work. The airport officials liked the colors, textures, and international content of the work.

"Exhibits, like Julia's, highlight Atlanta as an international city," Vogt said. "The airport is like the city's portal to the world."