OFFBEAT With handicrafts made from unusual materials, Appavu Lenin reaches out to children

Appavu Lenin is radical in his artistic pursuits. Working with objects that at first sight seem unsuitable for aesthetic creations, he makes handicrafts that stoke the imagination and convey a message. Employed as a tool for his art programmes in schools and colleges, these handicrafts come alive when Lenin relates stories based on them. Son of poet Elango, Lenin has inherited his father's felicity with words. For the magic in his fingers, he is thankful to Siluvai Pitchai, arts teacher at the school in Palayamkottai he went to.

Unconventional approach

"Through out-of-the-box methods, he made his art classes interesting. He instilled in me a lifelong fascination for shapes and colours." Someone who strives to be unique in every thing he does (he insists on wearing his trademark cap all the time to establish his individuality), Lenin tries to make his works stand out in every respect, including the materials used. Wastes, food items (as stiffening agents) and obscure objects go into his crafts.

The novelty of his creations - eggshells turned into comic figures, oil funnels into flowers, salt into foamy waves on a beach, and stones into a bewildering range of images - ensures uninterrupted student participation. A peripatetic teacher who visits institutions on invitation, Lenin takes his creations by a van. The consignment includes photos of his installations. Paintings done by him also play a part in his message-driven classes.

Lenin arranges his works strategically and launches into his stories. He employs, for example, a suitably displayed set of paper-mache images that represent two worlds - one, where women live, is verdant with leafy trees and the other, devoid of any female presence, is lacklustre with dried-up trees.

"Through this display, I explain to the children the pivotal roles played by women - as mother, sister and wife - and that a world without them is barren and lacks meaning. This effort is directed at children who live in a social milieu where female infanticide is an accepted practice," says Lenin.

A picture taken after brilliantly juxtaposing human figures made of painted eggshells with shrubs against a backdrop of tall buildings relates the alienation that results from unhealthy urbanisation. "I tell the children that people valued interpersonal relationships more when they were closer to Nature - but now they live in concrete cocoons that separate one from another."

Among the many topics Lenin deals with, teenage suicide takes a lion's share - the subject touches a raw nerve in Lenin, because his cousin ended her life. In his own way, he communicates how stupid it is to take a life - another's or one's own. "I teach them the beauty of optimism and how to take failure in their stride and start afresh. To inspire them, I relate stories of real-life heroes who surmounted physical handicaps and achieved success."

While Lenin exploits the transformative power of art, he also indulges in it for sheer fun.

A while after he made a huge Anaconda, his friends asked in jest if the snake had laid eggs. In response, Lenin made two giant eggs. A little later, he made smaller anacondas and called them hatchlings. As he thoroughly enjoys what he does, he is never short of motivation to attempt bigger things.

Lenin has now set himself the tall goal of creating life-size images from Hollywood films - as usual with unlikely materials. This effort has got him involved in the forbidding world of dinosaurs, mummies and anacondas.

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