December 15, 2008
We had been dreaming about this exhibition for a long time. We wanted it to be held in our school or in the neighborhood – for parents, friends, well-wishers, teachers, anyone interested in seeing...something different. We wanted to show how at Shikshamitra, drawing, painting, sewing, stitching, doing claywork, book binding, various other crafts, watching art, listening to music, singing, theatre, dancing, watching and analyzing films was all just part of our daily classes. Art is everywhere, all the time, with any subject. And it involves the maximum recycling of used and waste materials.
Eventually it was decided that it would be held on 12 and 13 December (Friday & Saturday) in the school. For two weeks, all the teachers and students, and especially Sudeshna and Maura, were extremely busy. They needed to select pieces from the last three and half years of work, write labels, and think about How? What? Where? to display these. Some grungy looking walls had to be painted. An invitation letter and envelope designed by students out of used brochures had to be sent out in both hard and soft copies; numerous phone calls had to be made. Most of these preparations were being done while normal school sessions were going on. The last two days, 10 and 11 December, were really hectic with the teachers and students doing the final selections, and Maura just starting to put into shape what was till then only in her head. There was also some “damage” done, when Biswajit stepped on Sipra’s toe in the ensuing melee and it actually wound up broken! Sipra cried for not being able to attend the exhibition. Students did some last minute “touch up” jobs and the teachers designed a bilingual leaflet. It was touch and go as displays were finally completed at 8:45 pm on the evening of the 11th in all the five rooms; duties were assigned to students and teachers; and everyone went home excitedly tired.
For the inauguration we invited the local Chetla Ward Commissioner, Bobby Hakim. Instead of the usual flowers and singing, with the lighting of an oil lamp and cutting the string, we first asked him to have a look at the whole school. He was taken aback when we then asked him to do a drawing on a piece of paper for us. He drew a man’s figure holding up the Indian flag and wrote, “We are all equal.” Seeing this, our student, Shajahan, cheekily whispered, “this is not right; one has to add “un” before equal!” This set the tone of the exhibition – with most of the visitors over the next three days being pleasantly surprised at the originality of the children’s comments, stories, compositions, drawings, etc. Mr. Hakim also mentioned that he would like to see if Shikshamitra’s talents and expertise could be utilized in the government schools in the ward, which is certainly something for us to follow up on.
Some of the many highlights of the exhibition included:
● The mystical song, Gharer Bhetore Ghar, by the group Mokaam.
● The story of a fight between the moon and the sun.
● Illustrated renderings of the Maori film, Whale Rider
● A chart showing how to do various kinds of book binding.
● A sales display of colourful, hand-bound diaries in various sizes made by the book binding group (more than Rs. 1000 worth of diaries were sold)
● Vibrant paper masks made from papier mache.
● Two posters that we have printed and are selling as a classroom teaching-learning material: one has a quotation by Picasso and another tells a famous Cherokee tale in ENglish that has been interpreted in Bengali by our student, Anita.
● Creative Math activity sheets.
● A colourful time-line of major life happenings made by a girl student.
● A book on the history of the school’s neighbourhood (Chetla) written by the senior students and their teacher, Sandip Bandopadhyay, and now being used as a guiding text by other students.
● Art Switch murals: a colourful square collage made by many children using pencil, paint, and various interesting waste materials, etc.
● The children’s own English storybooks made after listening to Red Riding Hood. These were re-written in their own words, typed and printed out, then pasted into booklets with their own illustrations.
● Bengali storybooks where children have written and stored their own book reviews in pockets fitted into the inside of the cover
● Bengali versions of English stories that were narrated by the teacher in class
● A précis of the film, Children of Heaven, made by the whole class together, with illustrations by each of the children.
● Tagore’s Katakuti (where the cross-outs and corrections made while composing a poem are joined together to form a design). In the same style, children tried their own such Katakuti.
● Children’s drawings and comments on how they perceive Tagore’s activities and predicament.
● Clay ornaments made by the children
● A drawing based on Kabir Suman’s song, Ekii Thalae Charte Ruti, on how war declared by leaders forces neighboring friends to shoot and kill each other.
● Reports written by senior students in English on a visit to a local kiln and on the visit by a doctor to Shikshamitra
● Chart showing the various uses of maps
● Various quotes by children were mounted onto matching pictures drawn and painted by them
● One of the most attractive things, right at the entrance to the school, was the big board with children’s quotes on the relevance of art in school.
There were so many more such items that it is difficult to describe them all...
There were also two activity corners. In one room visitors who felt inspired by the exhibition were free to do their own drawings/paintings. Many parents participated in this. In another corner, people could throw a colour-dipped ball at a large sheet of paper that had a dark black outline on it. By hurling the ball, they “painted” the various large pictures! New designs were put up as soon as one outline was full of colour. Not just children (many friends of our students came to the event), but many adult visitors also thoroughly enjoyed this activity.
The children put up short performances of two dances and a small skit several times on 12th and 13th when a good number of visitors had gathered. In our library. Malasree, Nandita and Poonam were in charge of selling Shikshamitra products. In the staff room, Sujata and one student, Dolly were in charge of serving tea and cakes/biscuits supplied by Maura. Biswajit, Sudeshna and Maura were all over the place. Payel was welcoming the visitors and getting their comments; Maushumi looked after the kitchen and did all of the local invitations.
The exhibitions were open from 3:00 -7:00 pm on the 12th and 13th. An announcement ran in The Telegraph on three consecutive days (11-12-13), and several people came after seeing the paper. On the 13th, many visitors started calling up their friends to tell them about the show, and they then started requesting Sudeshna to keep it open on Sunday (the 14th) as well. The teachers were exhausted but as usual, the students were quite willing so on the 14th, (Sunday) the exhibition was held from 2:00 – 6:00 pm. Even now, some more people are asking to see it before it is dismantled so we have made a decision to have the exhibits remain up through this week, till 19 December (Friday).
In most cases, it was the students who were on duty in the various rooms who were explaining the exhibits to all the visitors. Apart from the usual “good” performers, the normally more reticent girls also did a marvelous job explaining the work. It was the teachers from other schools and organizations who were the most excited. Kirsty and her teachers from Suchana, a village school in Birbhum (near Santiniketan) took detailed notes. Alokenanda from Shamil detained us till the end and had to be pushed out at 7 pm on Sunday! Education researcher, Manabi Majumdar, from CSSSC spent a lot of time at the exhibition, and said she would write notes after going home. Swati, from Learning Network, came on the first day and sent her mother and others on Saturday. Professor Subhendu Dasgupta not only read and spoke to the children in great detail, but also pointed out to other visitors what to look for and what to read. Senior teacher, Madhuchanda, from Future Foundation (one of Kolkata’s leading innovative schools) was amazed at the quality and diversity of work, and also the creativity of the teachers. She commented that even in her school this kind of commitment and output was not possible. Our friend, Soumya Chakraborty, was shown around by the petite-sized Pradeep Giri. When they came to the “Drawing Room,” and Soumya playfully asked what he would gain by drawing something here. After a few seconds, Pradip replied that, “you will go back to your childhood.” Shravan, of AID –Austin, landed up and after seeing everything in detail said that he might come again to buy the greeting cards made by the children. Laltu, visiting from Hyderabad, dropped in on the first day and gave many pointers ( he has been associated for many years with Eklavya and other such creative children’s ventures). Many people wanted a copy of the book, A History of Chetla. Zul Kalam of Swanirvar Rural came and wanted this exhibition to be taken to the village for people there to see. To this our student Shajahan commented that this will not be effective as it will needlessly produce jealousy. Instead, he suggested that Shikshamitra teachers and students should hold a two-day workshop for rural teachers and students so that they can come up with somewhat similar outputs. And at the end, there should be an exhibition of those outputs! Our first art teacher, Atreyee, who now lives in Pune, also dropped in briefly; as did ex-teacher, Ankur, with some of his friends. He sent some others the next day. Police Divisional Commissioner of South Kolkata, Mr. Subbarao, spent quite some time looking at the show. The local Police Station Officer in charge also came in at the same time (coincidentally); and so did our house owner, Arup Mitra (a professor at St. Xaviers College), and his wife, who offered to teach activity-oriented Botany and Zoology to the children. Maura’s husband, Gautam, came and entertained the children with small magic tricks. Anshuman and Malini were so happy that they called and asked DRCSC staff to come over immediately. There were many other visitors and some of the exchanges were quite interesting.
Our film teacher, Moupia and her filmmaker husband, Shankho, have taken many still and video pictures. We will soon make suitable docu-materials from these. Many have asked us to quickly come up with booklets that assemble all this work to show the detailed process and outputs for the benefit of teachers regarding how to do integrated teaching in "Art in Education."