Tanjore- ummm sure.

Tanjore painting is really hard.  There are lots of steps and you need lots of patience to create one.  I took a Tanjore class in Chennai for about 6 weeks and I didn’t even finish.  I can see how this art is looked on with great respect.  Everything about the painting needs to be perfect from the very beginning.  I spent hours on this painting and I didn’t even get to the painting part.  I have my work, and will finish one of these days.  This style of painting is still practiced, but they are very time consuming and it takes professional artists hours and hours of painstaking skill to create one that is masterful and full of beauty.  My teacher’s work was amazing.  You could instantly see that his work was of high value and really special.  His paintings were also four times as big as the small one I didn’t finish.

At times when I was working on this I thought it was really labor intensive, but I had to remember it was also meditative.  You could do nothing but focus on what task you were doing.  You had to pay attention to only that part, or else you would probably make a mistake.  Oh– and I made plenty.  Some days I was there for 4 hours working on the placement of the stones, or putting on extra putty to make them stick.  By the end of the class I felt like my back was stiff, my arms were stiff, and my fingers were going to fall off!

But I still worked at it, it was a great challenge for me to undertake, just so I could see what it was like to create such a piece.

I also met some great people along the way.  The arts center was a fun place.  At the times I was there, I always talked with the other students and teachers.  It was a great environment to be a part of and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.

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Start with an image and a board.
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This board has already been prepared for me, lots of primer and several pieces of muslin. You have to measure a border, which is actually a common practice in school too.
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Here is what the back looks like.
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You draw an image on tracing paper and then transfer it to the board. Things need to line up or else something will be cut off later.
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After the image is transferred you begin adding stones. I added too many in the middle.
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Then you cover them with muck. It adheres to the board.
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With the muck, you also build up other areas to create a relief on the surface before the next steps.
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And then you add more muck.
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Then you can add some more decorative stones on top of the muck to had added height and of course – fanciness.
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You can get elaborate, but you don’t want it to be garish.
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Here’s a different view.
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Next it’s all about the gold leaf. Yes, there is real gold in there, so don’t waste it.
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This is a stressful part, because you have to cover all the areas well.
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Once you have all the areas covered, you begin cleaning off the stones and cutting away the excess
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You keep working on removing the excess.
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And keep working on removing the excess.

I just realized, I don’t have a picture of the rest of the steps. I’ll have to post a finished piece when I have it finally completed.  As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes on in creating a Tanjore painting.  It is a dying art and it’s hard to find masters that can teach you the proper steps.  It isn’t to be rushed, you can’t finish this kind of piece in a few hours, and it takes time to perfect.  I was glad to have the experience and to understand how much work it takes to complete just a small one.

The other people who were in this class with me were creating pictures for their homes.  People who create paintings such as this have great respect for the art, but also the art serves as a function for people who practice Hindusim, it is a blessing to have one of these paintings in your home.  As you may guess, there are popular images.  Many of Ganesh, like my example, but also Krishna, Durga, Rama and Sita, and others.

Hip hop in India

Hip hop has become the go-to style for many kids around the globe.  It represents a lot to those who listen to the music and adopt the lifestyle.  A lot of people understand that hip hop is a culture, a way of life.  There are four main parts– MC, DJ, graffiti, and break dancing.  In India, I saw a lot in the way of dancing, and break dancing, or hip hop dancing was definitely the mode by which hip hop culture has assimilated into the lives of youth there.  Not to mention the attitude and style that goes with it.

I happened upon this group one day as I was walking back from my art class on a Sunday afternoon.  It was busy in the park.  People were exercising, chatting, playing.  It was super hot, too.  I could hear the faint music trickling out on to the sidewalk, and decided to stop and take a look.  At first I watched from afar, not wanting to interrupt their flow or seem like a crazy tourist.  But they invited me to sit down and watch.  I sat next to a couple of kids who spoke some English and we talked about hip hop, and dance.  One of the guys said that the group who was dancing were taking classes and come here almost weekly to hang out and practice.  And that’s what they were doing.   There wasn’t even a lot of talking happening, just dancing.  It flowed as the music changed as they were just trying a variety of movements out.

I talked to the guys some more and asked them if I could take some pictures and video.  They seemed ok with that, so I did.  After they finished a long session of dancing, I just thanked them for letting me watch and chatting with them.  They were super excited.

Dancing has a long tradition in Tamil Nadu.  Mostly known for a particular South Indian style that merges with storytelling and pantomiming.  Hip hop is a freedom of movement for them, a chance to experiment with their own style.  Because if there’s one thing that hip hop culture allows, it’s: personal style.

I tried going back to see if I could catch them practicing again, but I never saw them again.  I wish I had, because they were so fun to watch.  But, it was getting super hot throughout March, and I never ran into them again.  Here are a few videos that showcase the guys just hanging out, practicing, and trying their best to move to the music.

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Chennai Photo Biennale

It’s hard to believe that with all of these posts, I still haven’t gotten into March!  One of the last events I attended in February was the Chennai Photo Biennale.  It was simply one of those things you actually couldn’t avoid.  BUT- Why would you want to!?! There were photo exhibitions all over the city.  Some in galleries, some in restaurants, but many that were out in public.  Many performances and happenings occurred around the city at different times and places.  It really felt electric throughout the city, because you never knew when you would happen upon an exhibit, and when you did, it was always something intriguing, thought provoking, and surreal.

A perfect example of this occurred in my neighborhood.  I lived in the oldest neighborhood in Chennai called Mylapore.  It is known for it’s temples, it’s also considered the center of the city, because everything built up around it.  It’s a very historic part of the city, and I loved being able to walk around and view all temples mixed into the contemporary apartment buildings, old shops and restaurants.  One of the best places in the entire city is actually a park.  Nageswara Rao Park is a large park where people walk, jog, play badminton, have fun on the jungle gym and swings, and of course do yoga.  It’s a lively place.  It got even more livelier when a photo exhibit was placed all around the park.  It was an amazing exhibit, with giant poster sized photos from a group of international photographers.  Their topics focused on a variety of social justice issues which included:  child marriage, race relations, poverty, homelessness, and culture.  The pictures were from around the world.  Not just focusing on India.

I walked through this park most days, but when the exhibit was there, I made sure I passed through it everyday.  One day I saw people taking down the exhibit, and soon it was gone.  The park was still great, but for a while I felt like there was something missing.  Art in public provides a profound experience for those who interact with it.  What an amazing change for this particular community to interact with the photography and also the messages it conveyed.

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Road trip to Camp

The major highlight of being involved with NalandaWay Foundation was being able to attend, observe and help facilitate an arts camp called Kanavu Pattarai (dream workshop).  The purpose of the camp is to immerse youth in community building strategies. By using arts based and mindfulness practices, Kanavu Pattarai camps educate and train diverse communities to create responsible children who are expressive and positive in their choices.

Before we arrived at the camp for this session, our group stopped along to visit some other groups at some different schools who had already experienced Kanavu Pattarai in previous sessions.  The kids had recalled what they learned, shared with us the art and skits they created during camp.  I even got to facilitate some group yoga practices.  What a treat!

The best part for me was being able to interact with the kids, and noticing how receptive they were to my presence and trusting me to guide them through some poses.  What a warm reception and some stand out, unforgettable moments.

Here is a glimpse of some of the students I met, the schools I visited, and what they shared with us:

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Students were game for a few yoga poses.  Tree pose is always a good one to try.
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In Andhra Pradesh, the land is a lot drier and rockier.
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Mural painting is big everywhere you go, although this one is fades, it’s still beautiful.
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I had a chance to visit a girls school, the whole school was bright, cheerful, and boasted lots of arts integration.
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Meeting with a group of girls who participated in a previous camp.
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We also visited a residential school.  These kids were energetic, lively, and so friendly.
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Listening carefully to a few members who were speaking about the importance of the arts, but also how the arts can be a catalyst for social improvement among peers.

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Part of the camp process is to create a banner to bring back to the school.  This group worked hard to create a message about equality and acceptance.

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More to come from this trip. Stay tuned.

Job Satisfaction

You never know what kind of driver will pick you up when you use Ola.  Most are not very talkative, but others talk your ear off, or ask you copious amounts of questions.  Many are truly just focused on getting the customer from point “A” to point “B”, no matter what.  This driver is one of my favorites.  He seemed really happy when he picked me up. Greeted me with a nice smile and turned on the meter quickly and without question.  On this day, the traffic was light, there was slight breeze, and everything seemed right about the world.

I was busy looking at my phone to follow along on google maps when I noticed his whistling.  It made me so happy.  At first I just listened, but then I felt the urge to capture his the joy he shared with me.  I hope you smile.

Mural Making and so much more

I was approached by NalandaWay to help with a community project they were spearheading to bring groups of students and artists together in a school communities to create a murals.  The idea was not only to improve the environment, but connect and integrate arts into making positive relationships.  I loved this project so much I think I’m mentioning it twice on this blog.  I had never posted the before and after pictures together, but I will today.

In early February I went to the school to choose the place for the mural.  The Principal and a a co-worker went with me to help coordinate and choose an appropriate place for the mural.  We decided it would be good to place the mural in the hallway, so that when kids saw it, they would be able to see it and interact with it.  The hallway itself was an elementary part of the school contained in a larger high school.  I would be working with kids in standard four, but the mural would be right outside of the door of the standard one and two classrooms.

I was so excited to be working with kids by this point.  I had been out of my own classroom since December 22nd, so I felt like it was about time to have some interaction with kids again.  The hard part would be deciding what would go on the wall.  I had seen so many murals throughout the city of Chennai, what could I do for this school that could be a little different but also represent the school?

For some reason my mind immediately stayed with the word “school” and I decided on a  “school of fish”.  I found out that, I actually would have to draw the mural and create the idea.  There just wasn’t enough time to include the students input on everything.  However, they would be able to paint, mix and choose colors.

The mural had to be created and completed in about 2 1/2 days.  It was a fast turn around, but I had some help.  Two fantastic volunteers from Fidelity came to help me sketch out the mural and do some preliminary cleaning and painting.  Without their help, it never would have been completed.

The second day, the kids would come paint.  AND PAINT THEY DID!  They loved seeing the wall come to life and already you could notice a change in the environment from just the buzz that was happening with the student painters.  They had a blast mixing colors and getting to work.  Many of the students passed up playing in the school yard so they could help paint more.    They were so focused and dedicated.  So many of the students were eager to speak with me in the English words they knew.  The students shared how proud they were of their painting with their other friends and teachers, and when students were being picked up after school, some students took their family back to the wall to show off what they did.

Day three, was all in the details.  I was working by myself to just clean it up a little and add the details that may have been missing.  Many students came by to check in with me to see how it was going.  They offered to help again, so I let them.  They helped layer some of the details, and clean up some line work and mix colors.  One little girl came to sit with me and talked to me a while.  She told me stories about what she ate for lunch, and who took care of her.  She told me her favorite foods, her favorite cartoon, and what she liked to do in her free time.  She was a sweet, gentle, sensitive girl.  I tried to persuade her to go back to her class, but she seemed to have no interest in leaving my side.  At first I was a little worried that she may get in trouble, but no one came looking for her, and the other teachers who passed by us seemed to think that this was kind of a normal behavior for her.  She wanted, maybe needed, some attention and kindness, and I was willing to give it to her.

Below, are some before, during and after pictures.  It really was one of my most favorite experiences in India.  So much so, that I would love to replicate the experience.

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We thought about placing the mural inside a classroom, however, it would have been too high to paint with the students and only visible for one classroom.
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We decided to place the mural in a hall outside of several classrooms near one of the administration offices.
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These are a few of the students who were very curious about what were all doing there.
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Before!

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Day one is when we applied the fish stencils.
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With the help of the volunteers we traced the fishes on the wall.

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The next step was to create a border around the fish– it would eventually become water.

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End of day one! Thumbs up!
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Day two, kids come to paint– ALL day long!

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This student was really good, he actually helped paint a lot of fish and mixed colors for other students.

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Taking a moment for the camera.
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My lovely helpers.

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Posing for the camera!

 

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Lots of smiles at the end of Day 2.

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Day three, I came back to add in some details.

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My new friends, who told me all about her favorite things.

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All the student painters.

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Reflection

Get ready for  series of reflections since I am back from India.  It was a big struggle to try and update while I was in India and now that I’ve been looking through thousands of pictures and organizing them into the weeks and months.  I realize that there is so much that I want to share.  Even though it will come from a different point of view, it still reflects the different things I learned, what was important to me then, and how I think about it now.

One of the best experiences I had in India was creating a workshop for the organization I was working with.  Each of the project managers presented me with what work they did and a few weeks later I prepared a full day of experiential learning activities and lectures to figure out ways we could collaborate on arts education programming for kids in India.

There was a lot of interest in what kinds of work I was doing in my own classroom in the United States and the goal for me was to expose them to art education theories, the use of mindfulness and yoga modules in the classroom, lesson planning, and a bit of about the importance of being a trauma informed educator.

One of my main goals for the day was just to get my coworkers to make art and become aware of the experience of making. I know all of the people in the organization are connected to the arts in some way, but I was curious about how often they immerse themselves in creating art.  I also felt that it was extremely important to let them be students and experience what it might feel like to be a student of art.

I decided to share a lesson that was open, expressive, and allowed for collaboration and exploration.  To facilitate those ideas, I decided to use music to direct the art making, and this is the result.

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I provided a wide variety of tools and media so the artists could choose the supplies they thought were appropriate for them.
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The result was a variety of symbols and objects that emerged from the interaction of the music, that conveyed a variety of moods and emotions from the artists.
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Many artists expressed a certain story and explained symbols contained in their work.
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The layers of tone and color mimic the layering of instruments in the music piece.
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A variety of textures in this piece.
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The pattern and color are bold over a background of light colors.
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This piece shows use of other paper, creating a truly mixed media piece with collage.
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A musical art composition.
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Sometimes a landscape emerges.
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Or a boat at sea.
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The group checking out the completed pieces.
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Artist at work.
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Creating texture with glue.
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The artists set up, ready to add more to their piece.
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The workshop space.
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Ready to go.
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Awesome ladies of NalandaWay.
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The workshop participants and co-workers.
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Ready to present, with electricity or not.

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