C.D. Jain’s works underline the need to make the world a better place for children

On a large white canvas stands a young girl, her back to us. At her feet lie paddy to be harvested and around her head are numerous tiny figures of children with spades and sticks. The creation is one among artist C.D. Jain’s series on child labour. Since 1997, Jain has made children the subject of his work. Of the 400-odd pieces he has created since then, 32 are now at an exhibition titled ‘Mixed Realities of Forsaken Children’.

His lifework was spurred by an incident he witnessed in 1997 in Madurai, where a child sex worker sold flowers by day beside a hotel Jain was staying in. Thus disturbed, he spent the year after that speaking with children across Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to build a casebook of interviews with child labourers. His first exhibition of paintings on the theme of children was held in Madurai in 1997 itself and was well appreciated. Jain says, he is by preference an oil painter but created his first works on paper. “The psychological aspect of doing so was to reflect the little strength children have against atrocities,” he says.

Jain’s current show features works from several series in various media. The first few are stark black and white works in charcoal and are smaller in comparison. The more expansive pieces span out in acrylic and have been selected from his “Homeless child”, “Bonded labour”, “Child marriage” and “Destitute child” series. The last depicts a solitary child beneath what appears to be a heavy cross, but could also be interpreted as standing at the crossroads. Jain says his Christian upbringing and its associated symbols do invariably find their way into his art. Most of Jain’s children are also seen in agrarian backgrounds, against trees and in fields. For instance, his “Benign Forest” series has a deep blue canvas chock-full of trees which surround a mother and her child. “That’s probably because I was raised in Kerala, and those images of rural life have stayed with me,” says Jain. He is now settled in Mumbai.

Jain is also a child educator who works to provide children a holistic education which prioritises art. His efforts have been primarily with street children. “We begin by just giving kids plain paper and crayons to express themselves however they choose. The change we see in them in just weeks is remarkable,” he says. These experiences of happiness among children are reflected in several of his pieces on display here. Bright block colours background playing kids—evidence enough of the simple joys of childhood. The exhibition is on at Durbar Hall Art Gallery from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. till October 14