Trash talks in art

Ask any student at Kavingareru Vanidhasanar Government High School for their favourite subject and they’d instantly say, Fine Arts class — courtesy Umapathy K’s creative sessions.
Trash talks in art

CHENNAI: Ask any student at Kavingareru Vanidhasanar Government High School for their favourite subject and they’d instantly say, Fine Arts class — courtesy Umapathy K’s creative sessions. For the last decade, the crafts teacher has been associated with this school in Selaimedu village, around 18 km from Puducherry, making a difference — one art class at a time. From igniting their interests to opening the first fine arts studio in town — within the school premises — Umapathy has left no stone unturned in teaching them to find and build art around them. 

Art from nature
Umapathy is fascinated by the use of waste in art to spread awareness among students and the public about degradable and non-degradable waste. Raw materials such as husk, shell, dried fruits, dried spathe, inflorescence, and coir are commonly used in his projects. “There was no syllabus or a class period allotted for Fine Arts when I joined this school. I bought stationery and drawing books using my money for these kids. The excitement in their eyes was priceless. To make it relevant and affordable, I started teaching them crafts with whatever was easily available in and around the village,” explains Umapathy, who has a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from Kavin Kalai Kalluri, Kumbakonam.

The art teacher worked in Chinmaya International Residential School, Coimbatore, for four years after completing his education. The job taught him a variety of craft techniques. He worked with children from different cultures and backgrounds. Two years ago, while working at the government school in Puducherry, he also got an opportunity to teach kids at the Anse Boileau Secondary School, Seychelles. “The Indian Association of Seychelles in collaboration with the Ministry of Education organised an exhibition where we showcased our creations. It was a wonderful experience for 15 days. The government there values and respects handmade products and handicrafts. I hope we too realise the importance of it,” he shares.

Umapathy repurposes and uses 
non-biodegradable materials 

Colourful challenges
During the initial days, Umapathy toiled to convince parents and the school management about equipping their wards with life skills. “I’ve had arguments with other teachers in school because kids spend most of their time at the fine arts studio. Even if it’s a 45-minute period, they find it liberating, engaging, and forget the outside world when they’re with me. Eventually, seeing their talent, the Directorate of School Education of Puducherry government and our school management decided to support us. We get to put up a stall in any major event in Puducherry. People even suggested that we display our products on online portals and make money. My humble request to all schools is to consider art as a serious subject in their curriculum. Many craft teachers have been giving up their dreams due to lack of support from their schools,” he rues. 

The teacher makes it a point to brainstorm with his students and involve them in every project he pursues. Their latest one was with bottle gourd. “We used dried bottle gourd or the waste ones after harvest for our craft. I sourced them from a farmer in Thalaivasal, Salem. The total cost of making was `150 but when we showcased it at an exhibition, people were ready to pay `2,000. That’s the beauty of the work. This way, we also support farmers,” says Umapathy, who specialises in making many types of miniature models from areca nut plates. The artist has also been repurposing and using non-biodegradable materials such as used plastics, steel, and iron for his works. Artificial colours are not used to retain the natural aesthetic appeal. The size of their works ranges from a few inches to eight-feet figurines. 

Inspired by his work and passion, many of Umapathy’s students from the previous batches have taken up art as a profession, supporting their family with the income earned out of it. “These kids have got tremendous potential. They have won many prizes after taking part in competitions. I’m proud that some of my students have also been conducting art workshops and classes in neighbouring schools and colleges,” he shares. Umapathy and his students aim to pass on the skills to as many students as possible. “Someday, people will realise the importance of carpentry and wood toy-making. All we need is the encouragement to promote these skills for livelihoods. My dream is to create more teachers like me,” he says, hoping for a change and a better future.

For details, visit the Facebook page: Artfromwaste Umapathy, or call: 9443116311

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