Colour Light Shadow Party

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 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.

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Drawing Room: this is where it began

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.

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The man who crossed the river every day

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.

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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.

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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.

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Varanasi – December, 2014.