Life & Style

Art therapy for the young inmates of Borstal School, a remand home in Kochi

The superhero Ravan  

Ravana, a superhero drawn by a group of inmates of Borstal School, a remand home in Kakkanad in Kochi, is telling. A figure with a weapon it expresses aggression. Bengaluru-based psychologist and social worker Reena Cherian, part of The Art Outreach Society (TAOS) has been using art as therapy at the correction centre for past two years. She says, “Their drawings reflect aggression and figures with weapons but such exercises help them channelise their anger to something neutral, pleasant and positive.” Borstal School currently houses 28 young men in the age group 18-21.

Conflict with law

“The group at Borstal is heterogeneous as I mix the Malayalam speaking inmates with the migrants who come from different States in India. The common factor is they are young and have had conflict with law. In institutionalised settings, it can also lead to violence. Here the use of colours calm them.”

‘No Hope’ is the title of another work. While the 21-day lockdown imposed to fight the Covid 19 pandemic has sent people to confinement of their homes, it is also encouraging them to reflect on life in isolation. The title comes from being confined to a windowless room with an iron bar door and reflects a kind of despair. For the young men, a visit to the courtroom is the only connect with the outside world.

“These young men from dysfunctional backgrounds unfortunately took to crime for different reasons. One of the ways we keep them occupied is by engaging them in different activities. Art is one,” says Sreejith KS , Superintendent of the remand home.

Currently they are also engaged in making reusable double layer cloth masks in bulk as preventive wear against the corona virus. These are retailed at ₹ 10 each. Eighty-year-old Sara Mammen, an art teacher, heads the prison project of TAOS and is overseeing this project too. “Most are for cases of drug pedalling. Some do so just to get money to buy a smart phone. They are easily enamoured by material things but art gives them relief in this troubled phase.”

Change in attitude

A self-taught artist, Alexander VS is also a fitness consultant and into wellness. He has been working with the group for a year and says he finds art making a difference in the men’s outlook towards life. “Art can change their moods and minds and give them hope,” says Alexander. Having sensed the change art brought in him, “I want to share that with others.”Alex teaches them shading, drawing the anatomy, and colouring with pencils, crayons and watercolours.

Anubha Sinha, a technology entrepreneur, plans to use Virtual Reality to introduce them to latest technology through a fun experience. “Paper is two-dimensional but, in space, you can step inside your art and have a lot of fun, ” says Anubha adding that she uses VR in more structured ways as therapy for medical cases but it is at an experimental stage at Borstal. “ It is expensive and we require headsets for each inmate. For therapy, a minimum of five sessions per person is required. The first session is to acclimatise and, from the third session, they can begin to express themselves.

“TAOS was founded in 2016 to affirm the power of creativity an the arts as a tool for emotional growth and health. Creativity through the arts has been scientifically proven to aid human brain in various aspects,” says founder Tanya Abraham.

Reena adds, “at this point the impact of art on the inmates can be measured only subjectively but the fact that, at the end of a session, they all say that they have enjoyed it very much is measure enough that the colours are having a positive impact.”

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 12:01:26 AM |

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