V. Rajagopal uses art to open up the world to his rural students, writes K. Jeshi

For art teacher V. Rajagopal, every single day at the classroom is a learning experience. His students come up with new expressions, bring dynamism to art, and inspire him. “It’s a give and take,” he says. “We can learn technicalities about M.F.Hussain art or Leonardo Da Vinci from textbooks, but watching students create new art forms in the classroom is exhilarating,” says Rajagopal.

He has been a teacher for 30 years and in the last 13 years he has taught art at the Devarayapuram Government High School in Thondamuthur.

Here, most of his students are from a rural background. Their parents are daily labourers who cannot afford to buy art stationery. Rajagopal initiates the students into the beautiful world of art with whatever material is available to them. If a student’s father is a potter, he encourages the student to make terracotta art. Some students excel in drawing faces of birds, tigers, and elephants, as they are exposed to wildlife in and around their homes. Students give shape to tribal and folk art forms too. “Art helps them to observe life and become more expressive, confident and disciplined. Art lessons also introduce the rural students to history, geography and social culture. When they draw the Qutub Minar or the Saranath Pillar, they also acquire information about it – who built it, when it was built, why and so on… They also learn to identify and differentiate between various countries, by drawing map outlines.”

The simple lines that the students learn to draw also give them a grounding in mathematics and geometry. Rajagopal also exposes students to photography, street theatre and folk songs. He also introduces them to 2D and 3 D art involving sculpture and clay modelling. The exposure in art, he says, helps students to handle National level engineering exams with more confidence. “I ensure that my students use art as a medium and explore the innumerable opportunities it promises. It’s time art is included as a part of the mainstream syllabus.”

Rajagopal, a winner of State-level Kalai Sudarmani award, is a resource person who teaches art for teachers at the state and district level. At painting workshops, he trains children on how to use art to highlight issues such as child labour, and other health related topics. At a three-day camp at SACON, under his guidance, his students came up with sketches of common birds of Coimbatore.