The Sanctuaries | Washington, DC

Collective Artists

Naomi Chandel Kumar

 Photograph: Dejah Greene

Photograph: Dejah Greene

Artist Statement

My art was born in the spirit of giving. Initially, I began crafting to make gifts for loved ones. My love for art and artistic exploration continued to grow throughout my life. I am self-taught. I dabble in many materials and art-forms, such as charcoal/ink/pencil drawings, but gravitate towards acrylic paintings. I began commissioned work in 2014. I also do mehndi (henna) work and refurbish home goods. As of recently, I have also begun work in logo/tattoo design and woodcarving. Writing has always been a mode of stress relief for me and I have written poems since I was a child. I’m beginning to share my poetry publicly and often paired with my paintings.

Based halfway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD, halfway between my Indian ethnicity and American nationality, I create worlds of my own. My art explores the divine feminine, the ideology that the feminine is sacred in our life-giving abilities; the natural world of plants and animals; and abstract expressionism. I like to represent People of Color in my artwork and heavily use metallic acrylic paint. This adds an otherworldly element to my work. As a lifelong lover of languages and cultures, I love to incorporate elements from my heritage and travels into my work. I want the viewer to be able to understand some roots of my art, but let their own imaginations fill in the rest. Artists on both sides of my family work heavily in folk arts in India and these motifs, designs, and patterns often make their way into the details. The devil is truly in the details. I like to add personally significant details to each piece I create for someone else. Goddess, ethereal, soulful, witchy, floral, spiritual, opulent, colorful, queen, empress and magical vibes are what you will find in exploring my artwork.

In 2016, I joined The Sanctuaries in Washington, D.C. This organization combines art, spirituality, and diversity towards positive impacts for social justice. My first project with them was through their Visual Arts Team. We joined forces with artists from Street Sense DC, an organization that empowers homeless individuals, to create an installation in a mobile school-bus about the journey of homelessness. This was my first experimentation with collaboration and installation work. The experience was humbling, informative and effective in changing how housed individuals interact with homeless individuals. With a background in sociology and international development, it is integral to me in social justice work to be a true ally to causes and to work with those affected in creating solutions. Later in the year, I applied and was accepted to The Sanctuaries Collective. This seven-month program is teaching us how to combine art and human rights work in meaningful, impactful ways. This is my ultimate endeavor and I feel very blessed to have found a vehicle to answer my calling. In ways, my art journey has just begun. I have a feeling I will surprise myself with what art-forms I get into next!

Goddess Moon 

18 x 24” Acrylic, Ink, Beads, Glass, Moonstone on Canvas

This piece was created for the interview for the Sanctuaries Collective. The prompt was “What is Sacred to You?” I embraced this prompt literally and figuratively. I descend from the Chandela dynasty in India. Chandela means “of the Moon” in Sanskrit. Our lineage claims its descent directly from the Moon herself. Long before I knew this, I had a special relationship with the Moon. In my current spirituality, I do a lot of crystal work, which are tied to Moon phases as well. Water has always been a place of calm and sacredness for me. The tides, too, are tied to the Moon. The knowledge of my history, my culture, my freedom for my spirituality and self to evolve and grow, water, the Moon, and the crystals I use to connect deeper to the Universal flow of energy are all sacred to me. They are all tied together and this supports my deepest philosophy: All Things Are One.

Veiled King

18 x 24” Acrylic on Canvas

I follow a photographer on Instagram (Eric Berry) who took a close-up picture of a man in a blue keffiyah in Chefchaouen, Morocco (also known as the “blue city.”) I couldn’t get his face out of my mind for days and couldn’t figure out why. The photo was striking. Falling asleep one night, I realized I needed to paint him. That hadn’t dawned on me immediately as I don’t focus on realism in my work. With Eric’s blessing, I completed this painting in a few days. As I was bringing him to life, I learned his history. I realized two things about him: he had his own magic which could not be contained, and he reminded me of the King from the book The Alchemist by Paolo Cohello. The book takes place in Spain and Morocco. I had read it for the first time in Spain and it had been my favorite book ever since. I asked Eric if he had ever read the book and he responded that he had been reading it for the first time while he was in Morocco. The phrase “All Things Are One” is from The Alchemist.

To Lead and Love

24 x 36” Acrylic on Canvas

This was a commissioned work for an old friend from high school. She gave me very simple guidelines – she wanted a painting to represent the relationship between a mother and child. She is a single mother and I can only imagine the difficulty of that position, so I wanted to show a celebration of the love and strength of a mother to remind her of that every day. She leads her son into the sun, and he is two hues on the top and bottom halves of his body to represent that she will be with him through good and bad. Goddess Esmerelda is adorned in sacred braids and tattoos of protection for herself and her son Michael.


11 x 14” Acrylic on Canvas

This was a commissioned piece for a friend who gave me complete creative control of the subject and the color scheme of the painting. She represents Devi, the concept of the all-powerful feminine in Hinduism. She is the divine feminine personified.

A short poem I wrote to accompany this piece:

They had heard of her in every pocket and peak of the world: the jungles to the mountains, rivers to the desert. They each called her a different name. The Sacred, Divine Feminine ruled over and within. The Moon as her rider and the core-of- the-Earth her passion, she was both the ground beneath her and the cosmos above her. They looked to her for wisdom, for clarity, for love, for strength. They looked too close and they saw themselves: She resided in each of them.

Fierce Heart 

11 x 14” Ink, Charcoal, Colored Pencil, Pencil on Layered Paper

This was a commissioned piece for a friend who lived through a terrible medical ordeal. He was paralyzed on half of his body, but made the quickest recovery his doctors had ever seen. Now, he has nearly all his abilities back. He was assisted by an amazing medical team and so much love and support, but ultimately his own positivity and will to get better is what accounts for his incredible recovery. The Lion is considered very sacred in Ethiopia, where he is from. It is revered for its quiet strength, regality, and intelligence. This was the inspiration for this piece. Fine details are at the core of my work and that is on full display in this work.


10 x 10” Charcoal, Acrylic, Colored Pencil, Bindhi on Black Cardstock

This piece was in response to the first prompt we had for The Sanctuaries Collective: Create an artistic representation of your favorite quality about yourself. My favorite quality about myself is that I am an uplifter of mind and spirit. I believe in good spirits, it takes nothing from yourself to spread joy and good vibes. As someone who has battled many internal demons, I know the importance of even small words of encouragement, smiles, or hugs. I try to emulate how I would like to be treated. Many loved ones, strangers, and peers have thanked me for my willingness to take an extra step of kindness. As all of our actions affect the energy of the world, it is in all of our best interests to work together in positive ways. When I have some strength to spare, I know there are many who need it and I don’t hesitate to offer.

March On 


This piece was written in response to a prompt for the Sanctuaries Collective: “What is Sacred to You?” Since this was also our interview question, it was interesting to revisit it. This was written during the time that US politics was starting to implode on a national scale. Many people felt defeated by the spikes in racism, discrimination, and lack of empathy shown by those in power, especially towards People of Color (PoC). I did not. I do not believe that there was that option: a thousand women and men faced obstacles much greater than this in their lifetimes to achieve the rights we have today as PoC. What I felt as I wrote this was that we may be up against dire odds, but we have the freedom to fight for love. Freedom of mind is the most sacred space in a free society. To contribute positively, we must continue to protect and defend what is good in the world. Freedom, being an empowered individual, the soul and energy of the world, and defending the sacred are all sacred to me. Being a woman is also sacred to me. The exploration of my femininity is what has led to some of my best work. Mothers are the most sacred part of any family and they endure endless battles in silence. I want readers to be able to feel strengthened reading of her power and the power of her love.

We are born from struggle.
She felt pain like she’d never known to bring you into this world;
A world she knew may never love you,
A world that was built by oppressors to keep you.

She would not accept it.
In her heart, she believed, the love born for her own could be victorious against any hate.
The world was a jungle; beautiful and wild, terrifying and mysterious, quiet and loud.
She held you close and swam upstream.

She reached past the millennia.
This world, they thought, surely must be different.
Beyond and far enough from tortured times.
But she knew better:
She knew what truths lay behind veils of false histories told
and silent acquiescence.

To each and each child born, they would be shadowed in struggle.
She gave you protection and the world: now you must pass on life.
With their truth laid bare now, she set you in the river. It’s your time.
You will swim with your own upstream, and they with theirs,
never breaking the unspoken promise
of leaving the world better than when you came into it.

You hold the hands of the ones you love
in the face of all evil;
that which seeks to drain the universe & our souls of color.
Their hands are olive, deep yellow, ebony, ivory, honey caramel, desert red.
You hold your line across the river’s width, the chain never breaking.
All of you see now that the struggle has not ended, nor may it ever.
But with all your strength combined,
you wade through, slow and steady, until you reach the riverbank
and see the sun rise in Every color of the world.

The Sanctuaries