From Comfort Toys to Found Objects

Mr. Verma went shopping to a mall nearby. In one of the stores, he saw an exquisite lamp made entirely out of household products. He decided that it would make an excellent addition to his collection and went inside to inquire. To his disappointment, he found that it was priced higher than what he was willing to pay. “Why would I want to pay so much for a lamp that I can easily make at home?”, he asked. “You’re paying, sir, because the idea of making a lamp using everyday materials came to someone else, and not you”, the shopkeeper replied calmly.

Biju has an uncanny ability to walk into a room, look around, and pick ten everyday objects that he could convert into an art piece. When you look at his experiments with found objects, a voice inside your head says, “Why, I could do this.” But then you remind yourself that never in a hundred years would you have thought that a pair of broken aviator shades could be made into a beetle, or a utensil scrubber and a comb could be made into a bull.

His plan for the class was to get them to explore art in 3D using found objects. He had scavenged different flea markets and had gathered an assortment of raw materials for them: stuffed toys, twines, PVC pipes, sunboards, canes, fabric, buttons, plastic scrubbers, tea strainers etc. The challenge to create an artwork was not new to these kids. But the challenge to create something out of an object that was already complete in its own purpose threw them off.

With so many materials at their disposal, the children were lost. But Biju encouraged them to simply play and experiment with materials during their time with him. The result of this experiment was this:

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Biju had one advice to them, and I believe it stands true for everyone. “Open up your minds and explore all forms of material. Never ever be afraid to take a risk with your art. Just like any other experiment, if you fail, you can always go back and try another material.”

Most of them stayed away from stuffed toys. The idea of dismembering a childhood comfort probably did not appeal to them. But Natasha was quite comfortable giving toys a new twist. “You see, the world has even split toys for us. Girls are allowed to play with soft toys and boys are supposed to play with hotwheels and action figures. Toys are toys; there should be no discrimination. I’m planning to do a bias-free toy. A soft toy is usually considered a girl’s toy and guns and armours are the boy toys. So I’m mixing both of them and making a warrior soft toy.” Although she had perfectly planned what she wanted to do, she ran into trouble trying to execute it. Even though she was trying to make an armour for the seal, she was clear that she wanted to keep it child friendly, or else it would defeat the purpose. She needed a material that appeared sturdy enough to provide protection, and glue that would hold it all together without burning or tearing through the material. It took several attempts for her to get it all right. Although she was not entirely happy with her warrior toy at the end of the class, I was convinced that she would not stop trying to make it better.

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I noticed that the toy she finally held up was so small that it could fit into the palm of her hand. When I asked her, she said “So what? Small toys can be warriors too.” She’s right. I see so many of them battling against conformity in our own class. Nobody said art was easy. It was not meant to be. It is a tedious process of repeated unlearning and relearning. But one must admit, there is special joy in creating something that no one could have imagined before.

Open Minds Book Club Session with Dr Etee Bahadur​

Our Open Minds Book Club session with facilitator Dr. Etee Bahadur saw the participants ruminating over the philosophy and ideals of artist Somnath Hore. We picked his translated autobiographyMy Concept of Art and his social document on the peasant uprising in Bengal titled Tebhaga to bring to the fore his ideas on art, his quest to find meaning in his works, his source of inspiration and his overall perspectives in the creative/artistic domain.

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The first book My Concept of Art which charts out the artist’s personal journey, rummaging through the odds of the times in Bengal, with Hore finding his own feet through the language of his drawings while oscillating from Calcutta to Delhi and finally Santiniketan. The artist’s tryst with Socialist ideology and the underpinnings of that same ideology which finds semblance in his works is much highlighted in the course of the book. His engagement with the Communist Party and the manner in which it framed his own odyssey as an artist is beautifully expressed by the translator.

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The second book Tebhaga which is Somnath Hore’s personal diary documenting the crest and trough of the peasant discontentment in the Tebhaga Movement. Somnath Hore’s diary covers 12 days of the movement catching pace through the eyes and sketches of the artist. He encapsulates the revolutionary fervour and solidarity of the peasantry that he had never witnessed from such close quarters before. Both in his writings and the sketches that he makes, he records the happenings without any concerted attempts to ‘abstract or distort’ reality. His vision of ‘wounds’ is synonymous with the way he perceived the overall experience of the Tebhaga Movement and the manner in which it evoked a sense of memory intercutting through the past metaphor leaving the impression of a wound which was created by a betrayal, surpassing moral grounds.

As the discussion progressed, it entailed cutting across both the books as one is about his philosophy and evolution as an artist while the other book complements his learnings in the course of his odyssey. Participants discussed his relationship between politics and art. Sarika brought up the idea of the ‘instinctive medium’ that Somnath Hore talks about which in his case would be wood carving. She opined about the difficult choice of medium made by the artist. Hima and Mamta deliberated and pondered upon with our facilitator about the element of empathy required in an artist to propel such kind of works.They all partook in an exchange of thoughts around the empathetic approach of Somnath Hore in his work. Sancheta made a poignant observation that every work of art has it’s own journey in the road of recognition. Hima, drawing inspiration from the book observed that one has to engage with ‘experiments’ to bring about affirmative change.The discussion ended on a high with teachers exchanging their thoughts on employing the element of wonderment as a priority while imparting education to students.

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