Leveraging Art as Tool for Personal, Social Change

Kochi: Like many others I have been a sucker for the yummy cakes they bake at Kashi Art Café. The place also has a special vibe because of its carefully curated ambiance. It is meticulous yet liberating. It smells a passionate labour of love. So, when the creative force behind Kashi, Tanya Abraham, called me there to discuss her new initiative, I was more than happy to drive down to Fort Kochi.

TAOS (The Art Outreach Society – www.taos.org.in) which Tanya started in April 2016 is a non-profit organisation working towards using art as a tool for personal and social change. TAOS provides a platform to show how creativity can transform lives, connect people from across the world and thus bring about a positive change.

‘‘When you are angry, just draw something with colours,’’ urges Tanya. “You will be surprised how different you feel a while later. You become happier and lighter. We cannot heal all of them or even completely but we can offer them greater confidence and more inner peace. In the case of art, it is more about the ambiance and triggers, and not really the preaching.”

TAOS evolved from Tanya’s love for arts, and the recognition of its power to change lives. She tells me they want to do just four things: promote art education amongst less privileged children, drive art appreciation in society at large, use art for emotional healing and facilitate communal and social understanding through art. When you break these down, that is a lot of things to do.

Art Education

At the Amaravathi Government School in Fort Kochi, Dinakarlal, an alumnus of Fine Arts College, Thrissur, engages the children. “We started with one class a month,” reminisces Kuku Ravi, Head – Programme Execution at TAOS. “In the first session, the artist read out a poem and told the kids to visualize it. The second time he asked the children to visualize a dream they recently saw. The output has been very interesting.’’ That art education can help students perform better in school has been proven.

At the Yacht Club in Kochi, Swiss artists and filmmakers Augustin Rebetez and Romain Berger engaged the children in a Mask Making Workshop. Old cardboard boxes, rags, newspaper bags, coconut husk, plastic water bottles, rope, crushed paper and other everyday waste materials were used to make masks.

However, a project that is close to the hearts of TAOS volunteers is the ongoing engagement with the children at Udhaya Colony. At a workshop led by artist Sruthi, the children were asked to illustrate their relationship with the Udaya Convent where they are given free academic tuitions daily, and capture their memories of the place.

A couple of projects have already been executed at government schools to see how art can change lives.

Art Appreciation

The Puppet Theatre Workshop was an eye-opener for the kids – from making puppets and creating a script to bringing these puppets alive on stage for a show. Finnish puppeteer Ilona Lehtoranta from Theatre Capelle did the workshop with her puppet Hari. “Art therapy is not just about visual art but puppetry, theatre, literature and music,” adds Tanya.

New York-based screenwriter Elizabeth Chakkappan (critical thinking and visual culture faculty at Parsons School of Design) conducted a workshop on critical thinking and writing for the big screen. Chakkappan has worked with renowned American screen writer and novelist Justin Haythe to develop the scripts for Academy® Award-nominated The Revolutionary Road and The Lone Ranger.

Art for Emotional Healing

TAOS works with expressive arts therapists for which they have tied up with a Spanish NGO ‘Street-heroes Of India’ (SOI) which has sent artist and art therapist Edmundo Dos Santos to Kochi. Another unique healing intervention is movement therapy and a specialist therapist is available at TAOS. “We are using art to help children overcome mental roadblocks, trauma and disabilities,’’ explains Tanya. “Be it abuse, neglect, depression or fear, expressive arts therapy is gaining worldwide acceptance as a means to help regain confidence and reclaim lives.’’

Susheela Pai, artistic director, Mudra Centre for Dance, Kochi works with the children of Udhaya Colony, to help them find emotional healing through movement. Divided into groups, these children learn how to express their emotions such as anger, hate and joy through movement towards each other and by themselves.

‘‘The workshop acts as catharsis as we allow children to feel through the medium of movement; also it is a group workshop so there is lot of bonding and sharing, positively impacting their outlook and personality,’’ adds Kuku.

TAOS has a fabulous team equally passionate and invested in its mission. “We are getting there. We still need a lot of support. Since our work outcome is not quantitative like x number of toilets or benches, corporates do have a challenge understanding this in the traditional constructs of CSR,’’ concludes Tanya.