Bringing colour to little lives
Spoken by the man whose birthday on November 14 is celebrated every year as Children’s Day, India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s love for children is well known.
Published: 12th November 2022 12:39 AM | Last Updated: 12th November 2022 12:39 AM | A+A A-
CHENNAI: “Children are like buds in a garden and should be carefully and lovingly nurtured, as they are the future of the nation and the citizens of tomorrow.”
Spoken by the man whose birthday on November 14 is celebrated every year as Children’s Day, India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s love for children is well known. On his 133rd birth anniversary, here’s a look at individuals and institutions who have nurtured these blossoming buds using art as a tool to prepare them for a better tomorrow.
Artist as changemaker
As a young Jesuit scholastic in Bihar in the 1990s, Blaise Joseph’s decision to study art at The Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, was perhaps the turning point in his life. Working with the Musahars, one of the most backward communities in Bihar, was an eye-opener and he soon realised the potential of art in affecting lives.
From 2009 to 2018, Blaise engaged with several tribal and Dalit communities and prison inmates in the north and west India, organising art workshops for children and adults alike. To work with communities far removed from any exposure to art was a challenge that further strengthened his faith that art truly was the foundation of any society. The years ahead soon saw him as an art consultant for a few Delhi -based organisations, working towards introducing art in government schools and related communities, especially in tribal areas in several states across India. Later, together with his partner, Atreyee Day, also an artist, he brought out stories from the communities in beautifully illustrated books, which are today extensively used in tribal schools in the Andhra-Odisha border areas. Their joint initiative, the Kalakatha Community Artlore, was an attempt to help participants express themselves and become co-creators in tactile expressions. “Art can provide a fearless, non-judgemental space for the child, whose vast world is suddenly confined to the four walls of a classroom and a notebook, once the process of formal academic education starts,” he says.
On his return to flood-devastated Kerala in 2018, Blaise brought together artists to work with children who had lost their dreams in the fury of the rising waters. Children were encouraged to visually recreate their memories of the deluge, thereby guiding them to confront their loss. Currently, Blaise is the Programme Head of the Art By Children (ABC) initiative of the Kochi Biennale Foundation. Their Art Room concept features workshops for children using varied materials during the course of the four-month-long Biennale, as well as creating similar Art Rooms in a few local schools, as permanent spaces for creative pursuits.
During the pandemic, the ‘Learning at Home’ programme was introduced where children, along with their families, explored various narratives from their own lives in their art, through well-designed modules that were packaged as online sessions. “I am not ambitious enough to try and change the world. I merely want to make people, especially children, understand that creativity lurks within us all. If given a conducive environment, it evolves into a million possibilities, creates warm bonds and an inclusive society,” says Blaise, whose future plans include having a travelling art exhibition with these artworks as part of the Biennale’s ABC programme.
A collective initiative
When a group of 10 young artists from Kerala got together as street artists, the only thought on their minds was to brighten up landscapes with their street murals. These visuals brought to life stories from the surroundings and allowed the passersby to engage in a dialogue with the art, as well as make the inhabitants of the area feel a sense of inclusivity. They felt this was very much lacking in a world where art was most often cordoned off in exclusive spaces, inaccessible to the common man and the privilege of a few. Over time, they extended this outreach to tribal children in the villages they visited, where they conducted five-day art camps.
Using natural materials that the child could access after the workshops were over (like mixing turmeric and limestone to yield red colour), the children were expected to paint with their bare fingers. Starting with games on day one to help the children interact, the camps culminated in a group effort to create either a wall mural or a painting on paper, underlining the importance of working as a whole. Jinil Manikandan, one of the members, narrates interesting instances encountered with children during these camps. “Children draw with honesty and their imaginations are unconditioned. Often they would draw their family members as stick figures. It is only when they grow up that they begin to cater to defined notions of portrayal. If this honest innocence could be tapped, there would be a wholesome evolution of the mind, and art can do just that,” says Jinil.
When museums step in
India’s first private museum of contemporary art, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA), understands the role it plays as a cultural institution, in generating spaces where children encounter art through various activities like workshops, guided walkthroughs and conversations.
The workshops are for children of all age groups, and parents are also encouraged to bring their wards on weekends for art-based activities laced with fun and information. When the child is prodded to describe the art they see, it opens up multiple interpretations and pushes their imagination far beyond any school art training.
The students’ visit to the museum’s exhibitions hence proves to be the beginning of a journey of discovery for these young minds, as questions arise and answers are sought “Why did the artist paint/ sculpt this?”, “Is the real world reflected here?”...The museum’s art educators have taken care to design appropriate content that will bring forth such questions and promote very different learning along with an absorbing experience.
Art that heals
Then there are those who use art to heal wounded minds. Pallavi Chander, an art therapist from Bengaluru, believes that art can soothe children, especially those with special needs. Understanding the power of art, she started the Creative Arts Therapy programme for slum children in Bengaluru, to help them develop a sense of togetherness and build inner strength. As a therapist, she addresses the problems that are expressed when these children are given a safe creative space for such an expression.
When she initially started working with children with special needs, her toughest challenge was to convince the parents that art can make a difference. So she had to come up with programmes that included parents in order to let them experience it firsthand and bring about trust.
Art therapy as a medium to tackle a child’s emotional issues is only slowly gaining ground in India and awareness is limited to urban cities. “It still hasn’t reached rural India and this is where my interest lies in taking it to spaces which don’t have access,” says the dedicated artist and creative arts therapist.
“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” said cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead. Art does precisely that. A child’s uninhibited imagination allows for seeing a stone as a diamond, a twig as a sword or a cloud as a kingdom. This is how we all are when born unafraid to sing for lack of a perfect voice or draw because it does not conform to set standards. Somewhere along the way, life catches up and the harsh reality of logic and reason dries up this uninhibited power of imagination within us. The need to preserve this unconditioned spirit is what passionately motivates these artists and organisations to work with children through artistic interventions.
Let us hope to wake up every day to many more such initiatives and a bright colourful world filled with the laughter of tiny souls, perhaps the ideal future envisioned by Chacha Nehru.
Organisations that reach out
Artreach India, a Delhi-based NGO, brings together artists to make a change in the lives of children from marginalised communities. The artists are given the grant to work with a care home, which includes workshops for the children, field visits to artist studios and galleries as well as teaching art history, thereby making them look at the world around them and discover its joys with curiosity. Self-expression certainly opens up a whole new world for these little ones. An exhibition of their artworks is also held at the end of the year.
In 2017, intensive teaching programmes by artists were facilitated for homes in Patna and Bodhgaya, housing girls from the Musahar Dalit community. Since then, art workshops were also organised for refugees from Afghanistan, in Khirki village in south Delhi. Another site was Bawana, an area notorious for crime and drugs, where children were guided through art to dream of a life beyond the dark side. When children created murals on dull walls, it brightened up their environment and their lives, especially when these walls were intrinsically connected with their daily existence.