Author Topic: Teaching and making art everywhere in Sri Lanka  (Read 1189 times)

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Offline sithari

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Teaching and making art everywhere in Sri Lanka
« on: August 22, 2006, 11:49:59 PM »
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TSUNAMI: Through thick New York August air, my Eugene Lang College students and I continuously exchanged the phrase "I'd rather be in Sri Lanka". What is it about Sri Lanka that brought us there, and continues to draw us back? For our second summer, we had travelled there to conduct daily art workshops with children who survived the tsunami and had been made homeless or orphaned as a result.

Whereas the previous summer our group was called a "student excursion", this summer it was a five-credit course, "Teaching and Making Art Everywhere in Sri Lanka".

Through Eugene Lang College, the Undergraduate Liberal Arts College of New School University in New York City, where I am a part-time professor, eight college students and myself travelled there.

In addition to teaching art, the college students and I delved into the cultural landscape of Sri Lanka through making art on our own throughout the country as well as through visiting and researching various archaeological sites with Sri Lankan artists, art historians and archaeologists.

What we had planned paled in comparison to our experience of being there, as the unpredictability of travel and of art would have it. For myself, I set out to focus on other people's creativity- that of my college students, and of the Sri Lankan children, as well as to meet with university students in Colombo whose studies paralleled those of my own students. I ended up, unexpectedly, with a new series of artwork by myself, inspired by the colours of the Indian Ocean reflected in a skyscraper of glass in Colombo, and by the vibrancy of Sri Lanka.

Our second summer of teaching workshops to children who survived the tsunami was a deeply successful reconnection to the orphaned and homeless children whom we had visited the summer before.

The children opened their hearts to us even more during our second visit. This time virtually all of the student art teachers from Eugene Lang College and myself were invited to the children's homes. The art workshops were held in the region hardest hit by the tsunami along the southwestern Indian Ocean coast, in a Buddhist Temple called the Kruppukanda Temple.

The story of twelve year old Madumal tells it all. During the summer of 2005 in the Godagama art workshops, Madumal painted fervently every day. The results were almost always thick muddy surfaces in which every drawn shape was covered up, and covered up again, with passionately smeared paint. His language was too private to decipher, but the mood of the artwork was always dark. That summer all of what I knew of the children came from their paintings.

This summer, 2006, our relationships with the children and their lives deepened. After witnessing his characteristic painting approach again in the first week, I went to Madumal's house, at his invitation. I expected to find dark surroundings to match the mood expressed in his paintings.

Instead, his home had empty, pale orange walls, freshly painted, with arched doorways, and few belongings. Upon further questioning I learned that the home was a recent gift of the Danish government which had been given to him and his grandfather and great-aunt, after their home had been destroyed by the tsunami, and they had been living in a temporary shelter for the past year.

This experience with Madumal became a source of inspiration for teaching all the children in my group. When asked to recall a room from one's home, Madumal proceeded to draw an aerial view with chairs and kitchen fixtures.

Though I was sure that all that detail would be lost under his brush, when it came time to paint it, I asked him, "What are the colours of the walls?" He said "tambili pata", (orange). His face brightened, and he mixed two colours, one for the floor and one for the walls, different shades from rose to deep orange.

This painting he completed with great detail, preserving his chairs in a cerulean blue. It was a breakthrough painting because the drawing was preserved and the colours were not buried in layer upon layer of muddy brown.

His pride in this drawing was incredible. I think it derived from the connection that he made between his new home and his ability to describe its appearance, its mood as well as his feelings about it.

A subsequent painting in which the optional assignment was to recall one's home on the day of the tsunami was fierce, showing what appears to be a house-sized face glowering outside of a window. His ability to articulate the shapes and colours in the painting had become far more masterful, thus enhancing his range of expression.

This story of Madumal illuminates the role that art could ideally play in the lives of these children post-tsunami Sri Lanka, in keeping with our project's goals. Daily art practice, with guided lessons based on specific skill-based learning, increased his range of expression, enabling him to process the turmoil that he had experienced in his life. He came to a new understanding of himself and his abilities, expressing the ineffable.

The Sri Lankan children's relationship to our group is proving to be more sustainable than we had originally hoped for. Their artwork has become the center of our fund-raising efforts that will be launched by two benefit auctions, one in September sponsored by the BASF Corporation, in Paterson, New Jersey, and one on November 6th, 2006 at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in New York City. Sri Lankan artists have also volunteered to mentor older, designated children from the Kruppukanda Temple art project.

The money raised by the auction will fund the children's educations, including the Sri Lanka Project and the mentoring program.

In this way, the children can further develop their art as a way to express themselves as they continue to struggle with post-tsunami recovery.

We are very grateful for the support we have received thus far, from our University, as well as from many people we met in Sri Lanka who helped us in working with the children.

Our involvement in Sri Lanka was strengthened with assistance from the artist Noeline Fernando, who teaches at the Supermal Foundation in Colombo, and who helped to facilitate our contact with the Sri Lankan art world. Dr. Palitha Kohona was instrumental in introducing us to the Kruppukanda Temple and the children there, and has provided ongoing support and assistance.
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