KOCHI: The time period was the late 1990s, a young student, Blaise Joseph, of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit) in Patna, inspired by the arts, joined the famed Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU Baroda. As a Jesuit scholastic and a student of Art he used to engage with an indigenous community in Bihar, the Muzahars, who were one of the most oppressed, illiterate and landless labourers in the region. This led him to his real calling, to understand creativity and learning by taking up art based engagements with children as well as adults of the less fortunate, marginalised communities in society.
A student of philosophy too, Blaise was inspired by what he calls ‘the security that insecurity of the world’ provides and moved on from the religious life to the vastness of the creative realm, his real vocation.
By 2009, Blaise, a native of Edoor in Kannur district, had travelled through some of the backward and tribal community belts of North India, conducting art workshops for children. Later he joined New Education Group-Foundation for Innovation and Research in Education (NEG-FIRE), A New Delhi based organisation that promotes quality education for the marginalised communities, as an art consultant. With this new posting, he worked extensively in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra, Orissa and Bihar introducing art to the government schools in the inter-state boarder areas, mainly in the tribal regions.
In late 2012, he and his wife, and co-facilitator, Athreyee Day,an illustrator, comics artist and alumnus of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, conducted a series of art and storytelling workshops for the tribal communities in the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border area. It saw the community come forward to weave together the folkores, songs and personal stories to create richly illustrated multi-lingual books and charts which are now used as learning resources in tribal schools. The KalaKatha Community Artlore, a joint initiative by Blaise and Atreyee took form out of all these community based art interventions, to bring about changes in the lives of people through art. They used art as a healing process, as a process of promoting cooperation, non-competitiveness, non-violence, understanding and acceptance.
Some of the recent initiatives Blaise has been involved in are illustrating books for children, documenting people’s memories of river in his hometown as an art project called Puzha Ozhukatte, and also with alternative movements like river and forest conservation. This brought him in close contact with an NGO, the River Research Centre (RRC) based in Chalakudy.
After Kerala was hit by the deluge in August, Blaise spearheaded a small voluntary initiative, Artists for Kerala, which brought artists of different genres to work with children of the flood-affected areas. Together with School for Rivers project of the RRC, was born the initiative Flood Art. They conducted workshops where the experiences of the flood were recreated in pictures and through storytelling.
At present, Blaise is involved with the Art By Children initiative of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, where he has been appointed as the programme manager. “In this Biennale, we are working around a concept called Art Room at the Biennale site as well as in selected 10 schools; an art studio space for children as well as seekers of creative expressions to engage with a variety of materials and to create visual art works. These Art Rooms will be evolving spaces thriving with art based activities and conversations,” says Blaise.
“We aim to bring an art culture in schools and are looking at establishing permanent art rooms in schools which will provide a space for children to explore their creativity and give an outlet to expressions. Art plays a major role in shaping individuals and children hold the key to a better society. The society needs to allow children to sustain their innovative childhood through such initiatives,” he says.