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Untamed strokes of young minds

Does a child need to be taught painting? No. Every child loves to play with colours, and this innate urge only needs to be gently shaped, as the exhibition of children's art at Max Mueller Bhavan illustrates.

KETA'S WORLD is coloured with joy. On paper, it celebrates the essence of an individual at seven. A rainbow-bright house is parked at the centre, a symbol that all's well. Outside, on the grass, her parents - perhaps puzzled by the wayward ways of their youngster — do headstands side by side. The child-artist draws herself by their side, all bushy-haired and pastel-hued, in search of her friend. Where is her friend? High up on a tree, the very best of hiding places.

Keta, like her peers, Alia and Tara, Nakshatra and Akash, Tejas and Rhea, was part of a four-session free creative workshop with artist, Balan Nambiar, hosted during the local Max Mueller Bhavan's Open House in February. Since April 6, her works have hung alongside those of other five to 13-year-olds in the German cultural institute's lobby, in an unusual exhibition that encapsulates the untamed strokes of young minds at play.

Akash, who is 10, paints a boat adrift in a bay in delicate water colours. His vision is aeons apart from his namesake (age unknown), who brings to life a spaceman or robot exploring uncharted terrain. On Alia's once-blank paper, smile power surfaces through two bright blooms bobbing atop a hillock. Anindo has other ideas. It is a round-bellied jelly of a pink giant that looms over his grassy knoll. No matter where their creativity stems from, some facts are beyond dispute. These works did not emerge from copying a teacher-drawn picture in a classroom. Nor were they inspired by instructions from a "how-to" manual. Nor was the child's untapped creativity moulded to fit preconceived perceptions.

Instead, these 70-odd works emerged from allowing the child to exuberate naturally with paint and brush, crayon and pencil — with absolutely no adult intervention.

During the workshop, Tara frowned as the long and winding road that bifurcated her greenery unrolled, one hand holding back her bobbing ponytail, the other stroking the scene deftly to life with oil pastels. Iqbal, his colour-daubed abstract complete to his eyes, bobbed from table to table, smiling to himself as his eyes alighted on different strokes.

Nambiar, who has held free art classes for children in Bangalore for the past 31 years, confesses to the parents assembled along with their bright-eyed wards for the inauguration of the show: "There's very little I teach these children. I learn so much from them. All children are talented; all of them like to draw and play with colours. I help them not to spoil their paintings, to improve their works."

As if in response, a seven-year-old girl with a green velvet dress points out her own framed work on the wall, and shyly asks her denim-shirted companion with a cocky grin: "Where's your painting?" Her bright ribbons bob like butterflies under the gallery lights, as she moves to a visual where bands of colour unfurl on an adjacent wall, and exclaims: "Oh! Yours is super! I don't like mine any more."

Honest feedback from growing minds has shaped Nambiar's engagement with free weekend art for children since 1971, first at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Bangalore, and now at his residence. What is his impetus?

Children engrossed in a world of colours.

"I taught art in the conventional sense at the Kunissery High School in Kerala for a year, in 1958-1959," responds Nambiar. "I followed the syllabus faithfully and asked students to copy off the board. But after I completed my education at the Madras Government College of Arts and Crafts in 1971, I realised that my teaching method was faulty. My art classes for children have been a prayaschittam for my earlier errors."

As Aditi asks if her mountains look right, as Shreya runs away in search of a balloon in mid-drawing, as Abhimanyu shades in the natural geometry of his imaginary landscape, Nambiar's penance assumes a positive aspect. Impulsively, he kneels to share the perspective of a seven-year-old, pointing out that the blue sky tints the space between the building-tops and the clouds, unlike the white space in her painting. He shares the myriad shades of green with another youngster, whose eyes begin to shine.

In a playground of child-centric ideas, Nambiar's art pedagogy assumes dimensions beyond the classroom or art competitions. For as long as the sun is a bright balloon in the sky, for as long as a shower of candy rains down from a rainbow, his vision needs no revalidation — except through the colours celebrated by his students down the years.

(The exhibition of child art at Max Mueller Bhavan is on view till April 27.)


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