S.C. Arts Awards: Jugnu Verma

2021 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2021 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is focusing on this year’s recipients: seven receiving the South Carolina Governor’s Awards for the Arts and two receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

Jugnu Verma

Artist Category: Traditional Indian Folk Arts | Folk Heritage Award

Jugnu Verma was born in Bihar, the state in India where the art form Madhubani painting originated. Growing up in Bihar, Verma found herself surrounded by Madhubani artists, whose painting was characterized by distinctive geometric patterns. Madhubani paintings depict people, nature, and scenes featuring Hindu deities. Objects like the sun and moon are also common, along with scenes from the royal court and social events like weddings. Madhubani painting was one of the skills passed down, primarily by women, from generation to generation in the families of the Mithila Region of Bihar. Verma developed an interest in it at an early age. She was fascinated by the variety of tools involved in creating the paintings, including the fingers, twigs, and brushes. Verma took the initiative and learned the art form from her neighbors.

Rangoli, another traditional art form with cultural significance in the Indian community, involves the creation of colorful patterns on the floor using sand, flower petals, rice flour, lentils, and beans. Verma learned rangoli from her neighbor’s grandmother, who taught her the different styles and symbolism within the art. Over the years, Verma improvised and took her work in a variety of creative directions. Typically, rangolis are made at the entrance of homes and temples to bring good luck and as a welcome symbol for visitors. They are an important part of celebratory festivals like Diwali and Onam.

Henna is a plant-based dye that is used to create temporary designs on the body and is an integral part of Indian weddings and festivals. During a traditional Indian wedding, the mehndi (henna) ceremony involves applying henna designs to the bride and to the guests. Verma learned the traditional art from her mother, a seasoned henna artist. Growing up, Verma created henna designs on her sisters, cousins, aunts, and friends. Thirty years later, henna artistry has become an important part of Verma’s creative lifestyle, and she is a prominent henna artist in South Carolina.

Verma is eager and enthusiastic about sharing her artistic traditions through her work as a Diwali (Indian Festival of Lights) party organizer and in workshops, and exhibitions at the Columbia Museum of Art; the rangoli educator at Overdue: Curated for the Creative, Richland County Main Library; and as a lead artist at Artista Vista in Columbia. Verma enjoys working with young people and teaches traditional Indian art forms extensively in the local school districts.

Verma feels it is important for South Carolinians to know about India and its culture and she serves as a cultural ambassador through her work throughout the state. She is passionate about cultural outreach and building bonds with the larger community. According to Verma, “Folk art enhances and enriches celebrations and rituals, and it tells people who others are.”

The South Carolina Arts Awards stream live Monday, May 24, 2021. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. on SouthCarolinaArts.com. There is no in-person event in 2021. The virtual ceremony will be available on demand from the S.C. Arts Commission YouTube Channel after the livestream presentation.

Meet the Recipients

Use these links to read the long-form bios of the other 2021 South Carolina Arts Awards recipients.