We are Sector 8: An art initiative by Akshara High School

After three years of an intensive engagement with Akshara High School, Mumbai, Art1st saw the art class bloom beyond their walls. This journey began with an incredibly encouraging administration and Tushar Joag as their inspiring artist mentor. In 2019, under the mentorship of Vrishali Purandare, the teachers endeavoured to localise the Art1st AEP curriculum and understand the community the school is a part of. This is how ‘We are Sector 8’ was born, an art project that would prove to be much larger than a day-long art exhibition.

The mentors and art teachers worked together to develop the curatorial theme titled “We are in Sector 8” for the Annual Exhibition of Child Art. Working towards this curatorial declaration, they structured Lesson Plans to integrate various subjects with field visits around the community. Localisation was an intrinsic part of the creative process. Originally, the curated exhibitions are restricted to the school, but here the display moved out to the environments that inspired them- into the streets and by-lanes, into shops, outside peoples homes, near the garbage dumps, in the mangroves and in the cooperative housing societies.

In bringing art-making, the creative process and the art work out of schools and into their neighbourhoods, the children’s artistic vision was placed at the centre of the community. Children are astute observers and commentators of their communities and have their own unique interpretations of the people, places and community they live in. The art works were displayed on grills of people’s houses, the barber’s salon was exhibiting “Detailed Drawings” and the school van was moving around Sector 8, displaying children’s self-portraits. 5th Graders painted a series of portraits of street vendors; Stationary-waley Uncle, Cadbury-wale Aunty, Istri-wale bhaiya and many more.

Each site was transformed from a place of business to a place of exchange. Parents, business owners, vendors were invited to see the art works, artists were introduced to their subjects’ families, art works were deeply examined, dissected and discussed and appreciated by their subjects and viewers alike. Community members shared ideas on how to make changes to their neighbourhood while also celebrating the vibrant cultural and biological diversity of Sector 8.

‘We Are in Sector 8’ exemplifies the possibilities and potential of how research-oriented, interactive and socially engaged art-making practises can impact children, schools, teachers and community members. Art classes facilitated the interweaving of the community into each lesson plan. The neighbourhood became the site of inspiration for children’s art-making process which involved interactions with people, shopkeepers, residents of Sector 8. This process empowered children to establish a dialogue with the community members within the spaces they cohabit. Through art, exchange and relationship, children became active participants and change-makers of a culture common to Sector 8.

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