It’s been a busy few months and the new beginning I made with Drawing Room is slowly unfolding into some exciting projects lined up.
Right from the start, my dream has been to be able to create Drawing Room as a travelling entity that can go to anywhere that children may be seeking an opportunity to make art. Free from the boundaries of classes, or schedules and timetables. I wanted to be fluid with the destination, and open to going to children, rather than having them come to me at all times.
I’ve been working at expanding the reach of my interactions through workshops and private sessions across cities, to make this as true as possible. So far we’ve had workshops and private sessions in Bangalore and Mumbai (see here and here) with incredible regularity and it has been all kinds of exciting!
Later this week, I’m off to Mumbai once again for private sessions, after which I’m taking Drawing Room to Goa in September. Stay tuned for more information about that!
Thank you all for the support and encouragement all along. I would like to share a peek into Drawing Room with you all, to see how we unpack ideas and allow them to take form into stories told through drawings and painting.
When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.
There have been times when as a facilitator, I have had to explore ways of unlearning concepts and some of the strong conditioning that I come with, both as teacher and as a child. This challenge has many a times brought me to discover wonderful ways of unlearning and re-learning.
I’ve grown up hearing adults and teachers at school say, “making a mistake is part of learning” or “making a mistake is part of life”, yet I never wanted to believe either of these statements. When you use the word “mistake” to describe an artwork for instance, you immediately imply that it’s far from perfect, or that it can be better. Whenever I heard the word, it was hard to not compare my work to something that was right and perfect. Because as we all know we celebrate our correctness over our mistakes a lot more.
I took this up as a challenge in my role as an art facilitator (and also for myself in life, in general) to learn to try and accept, and to celebrate my mistakes as much as I celebrate the times I am correct. Initiating that change meant creating an accepting and trustful environment for the kids to work in. Which in turn meant keeping in mind a nonjudgmental language when critiquing their work.
Looking back at my student life, I have come to realize certain phrases lock in judgmental ideas about the artistic processes. These phrases, the very language of feedback, right, wrong, mistake, easy, etc, cues a focus on performance, competition, comparison and risk of failure. Even though it requires constant attention to break these habits, it is well worth the effort.
In Mumbai, I taught a group of children aged 4-9, and one of the sessions was structured around this extraordinary book, Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg. It’s a simple book that shows young readers how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. Creatively made, Beautiful Oops! is filled with pop-ups, flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope” to demonstrate the magical transformation from blunder to wonder.
Introducing this discovery to the class brought about an immensely positive change in the way the kids explored and expressed themselves. It seemed to have set off a cycle of change where each of them discovered their strengths, while encouraging each other to work with a sense of spontaneity, acknowledging their mistakes and learn to work towards what they wanted their work to look like, regardless of the blips along the way.
Here are a few images from the sessions after having introduced Beautiful Oops!
Looking back at my years in school, I was never much of a textbook learner. Reading and writing alone didn’t do much to help me retain information. The concepts that have stayed with me the most, and that I remember to date have been those that involved interactions and physically handling objects to understand how things work. Sometimes this was about understanding materials, and other times it’s the experience of being completely consumed in an activity, allowing my imagination to run amok.
In September 2016, I collaborated on with performance artist Mahana Delacour (Paris) in an interactive workshop. Mahana was visiting Mumbai as an artist in residence at WAA Residency, and some of the key elements of her work are interactivity and art therapy. Also being a teacher, she had a really unique way of telling imaginative stories bound by theory and concepts in art.
The play of light and shadow are key elements of all visual art forms, so I planned this session with the intention to teach the kids to observe light. It was a great way to have fun while also discovering how we see light, how shadows happen with respect to the earth, sun and moon, and how the human eye perceives light and shadow.
The session involved a lot of hands-on activity, as the children played with objects, colours and a light source. They observed the change in light as objects were moved farther and closer from the source, the play of colour using cellophane paper in primary colours as well as the changes in results when they were mixed.
Excitement was high as placing the sheets one over another to discover a whole different range of colours made each child feel like they were magicians on stage! Then a shadow play session followed where they built narratives with toy animals and sea creatures and the shadows they cast. They were thrilled to see how the shadows were exponentially larger than the objects themselves.
It was a great introduction to an interactive installation as well, because the entire room was turned into a kaleidoscopic interactive art experience, with the children discovering things with every little action they made. I have always valued the delight of discovering things for myself. And it was satisfying to be able to share that feeling.
When I began the Saturday Art Club (as it was called then) my approach was simple. I started with the very basic idea to engage with the visual form, and use it to study objects and ideas closest to us.
Over the last few years of my practice, and some involvement with interacting with children, I’ve observed that the practice of teaching art has become unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome – involving expensive tools, stationery etc.
It was interesting to see that the children came from backgrounds in formal art education either through a previous art class or at school. Most were already initiated into art and craft through formal/conventional structures, bound by rules and guidelines typical to a classroom set-up. What I didn’t anticipate was the couple of sessions and time and effort it took to undo and break through those existing structures and frameworks they already belonged to.
Thinking back to my own years in school, and my early interest in art, I remembered how intimidating and off-putting a structured classroom set-up made me feel. So, I realized if my goal was to help children begin to engage, react and respond to the visual form freely and fearlessly, it was essential to break away from the rules and the pressure to create “pretty” things.
This is where looking outside the field of art education alone, helped my learning, how to initiate and kindle a sense of free exploration in children. As a facilitator there were so many wonderful connections to be made between the formal art education (such as learning perspectives, colour theory, colouring inside the lines etc) and the simple learning through the perspective of each child’s imagination.
By allowing children to explore their own memories, ideas and other visuals they wanted to bring to life, I found a method that balanced the two. This was the beginning to a journey I later titled “Dear Imagination”.
In the 12 months that I interacted with this group of children, it became clear to me that creating an environment that celebrates each child’s uniqueness was the best way to educate myself about what art education really means to me, and where I want to go with this.
Certain experiences manifest as blessings and one such experience last year was my trip to Varanasi. It was my first time visiting the Ganges, and as I walked by the side of the river for the first time, everything seemed still, yet charming and timeless. The morning was foggy and cold, the winter light came through the clouds greeting the river and the massive flocks of migratory birds flying really low around, all the boatmen played before my eyes like a scene from a film.
As I walked from one ghat to the next, taking in all that I possibly could, I was drawn to an old man sitting by this boat, and instantly knew he had a story to tell me. Banwari Lal, looked at me and asked if I would like to go across the river and offered to take me in his neatly painted green and yellow boat.
Dressed in a blue and white checked lungi and a brown jacket/coat Banwari Lal gently maneuvered this boat and brought it to shore. Asking me to step in slowly while it rocked and lapped in the river. He was such a gentleman and as he pulled the oars of his boat he told me about his relationship with his boats that have stayed on the banks of the Ganga at Prabhu Ghat for the last 32 years. He and his boats have crossed the river, floated back and forth from one bank to the other, witnessing the transforming life of people and moments that pass through the ghats, year after year.
He told me how every season he witnesses new changes, makes a few friends some of them re-visit while some don’t, but he and his boats remain a constant. He told me how he is driven by the art of rowing and that is what has kept him going. He continues to manually row his boat, despite the fact that many boats are now motorized. Banwari Lal chooses to continue to row through his journey with grace.