What happens when one of the basic elements that you use to create art itself becomes an art? When 25 enthusiastic children walked into Ravi Kashi’s studio in July, he was all set to shake their very definition of art. On their arrival, as he got to know the students better, he enquired about the kind of work that they had done. Apart from sketching still lives, painting and colouring, few children had explored other mediums of art.
So when Ravi brought out a big tub full of cotton pulp and announced that they would be making paper, he was greeted with stunned silence. I even heard a student saying, “Eww. There’s no way I’m putting my hands into that.” The process was fairly simple. Children were given pulp made from shredded waste cotton cloths, a set of frames, sponge to remove excess water and a work station. I saw several questions in their eyes. ‘How can this be art?’, ‘What’s the point of this? Paper is always available.’, ‘Will we even be making paper after this class?’ but after the first child plunged in, others had no choice but to follow.
Once they got comfortable with the messy art of making paper, Ravi decided to unhinge them once again. This time, with wires. Children were given the task to go around their neighbourhood and collect leaves, shells, seeds, seedpods, branches etc. The idea was to get them to start observing the background they walk past every day without noticing. Once they chose ‘models of interest’, he set them on the task of drawing those models. What’s interesting about drawing a still life, you ask? Well, he asked them to draw the models from multiple views. This is where it got interesting: children were so used to one right answer that they found it extremely difficult to draw the same object in different lights. Breaking the pattern turned out to be challenging and frustrating for them, and it looks like they would need more than one challenge to break years of tradition.
Once the drawings were ready, he set them on the task of bending wires to recreate the images they had drawn of their objects from multiple angles. At first, they did not seem to have a clue what they were doing. Ravi refused to elaborate on what was expected of them, “Trust me, they will figure it out by themselves. And nothing will compare to it.” And boy, was he right. Once the first wire rose like a projection, they were thrilled. They were transforming their 2D drawings into 3D forms of their objects using wires.
Once that was done, they proceeded to ‘give skin’ to the wireframe. Using the paper making techniques they learnt in the first class, they set out to make papers with pulp drawn from natural fibres like cotton and banana stem. The result? “Oh, my God! It looks exactly like the leaf, only bigger!”
There is a good chance that the models of interest will not survive the end of the program. But these replicas will serve as a reminder, much like the relics that serve as a reminder of the civilizations of the past. Through this activity, the children’s idea of mediums has changed, their definition of art has broadened, and most importantly, they have already started to look at their surroundings with fresh eyes: the eyes of a preserver.