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One memory from my childhood that stands out clearly above all else, is of me sitting at the dining table, sketching. My mother would save all sorts of paper, pencils and pens for me to use when I returned from school. Such freedom gave me a foundation of curiosity to explore art of all kinds.
Through school, college and beyond, I seemed anchored in creating my own world in different hues. It never occurred to me to study art formally, and I pursued my education in Psychology instead, which was another subject that I enjoyed intensely. I went on to get a degree in Education followed by a Diploma in Counselling.
It was while working at SAARTHAK – an NGO active in the field of mental health – that I realized, first hand, the calming and soothing effect art had on most people. I started working out art-related activities for small groups of children and adults. These were not art-therapy based as much as they were therapeutic in nature.
The art room soon became a safe and encouraging environment for members to be in. It was insightful to see how people across age groups responded to color, line, space and materials.
It was around this time that my focus shifted to my own creative journey and I decided to give it my full attention by exploring mediums and subjects that excited me. I spent more time learning, reading, painting and sketching than I had ever done before. It was challenging yet highly rewarding. This culminated in my first solo show in 2005 at the India Habitat Center.
With time, my interest in art and psychology were integrated and for the past eleven years I have had the opportunity to work at AADI (Action for Ability Development and Inclusion) as an Art Facilitator for people with disabilities. Everyone is encouraged to discover their own comfort level and understand that there is no right or wrong way in art. To accept and appreciate differences and celebrate them is the norm. Innovative and exciting use of everyday items such as earbuds, shaving brushes, plastic forks, candle wax, cotton wool, toothbrushes, and so forth, created unconventional textures and gave rise to new ideas that could be explored further. We have explored flash-cards, coffee-table books, social stories and social media to keep us inspired.
The longitudinal nature of my work at AADI has given me some interesting opportunities to see members take their art from tentative mark-making to creating full-fledged and confident artworks. We have had five exhibitions at the AADI Art Gallery over this period. These have been enthusiastically visualized and executed by the art club members and attended by an ever-growing and diverse group of viewers. These opportunities have taken learning into a different realm of development of life, experiential and organizational skills.
In February, 2018, we were invited by the Department of Education, Delhi University, to make a presentation at the International Symposium on ‘Redefining Disability through Art’ and again in March, 2019, to speak on ‘Disabilities and Arts, Prospects and Possibilities’. When the lockdown happened, we went online with our art sessions at AADI and continue to explore new topics that keep the club members active and involved in art and current affairs.
Meanwhile, my own art exploration takes me down varied paths. I have had the amazing opportunity to illustrate for Mr. Ruskin Bond’s book, ‘While the Birds Still Sing’, and am presently working on a set of illustrations for a children’s book. All this happens alongside regular hours of painting at my studio and teaching a diverse group of talented individuals through workshops and classes. Most of what I do now is something I couldn’t have imagined doing when I took the first tentative steps to follow my passion instead of my education. Enthusiasm and perseverance have helped me along the surprise-filled journey most artists follow. But I realize that my training had started years earlier, and unbeknown to me, the seeds of what I now reap were sown at the dining table of my childhood home.
- The article was originally published in Career Ahead October 2020 issue.