From theatre arts to painting, paper crafts, clay modelling, photography, folk music and folk dance, the team has a lot of activities up its sleeve.

Meet the artists who travel around TN and help kids express themselves through artPalani Kumar
Features Art Saturday, May 26, 2018 - 14:44

A group of curious, young faces gather under the large peepul and tamarind trees outside a government school in Perambalur. Classes for the day have been called off and a small group of volunteers have taken over.

Their interest piqued, the children giggle and whisper among themselves, their expectant faces breaking into smiles. Teachers too are equally curious to see what has taken precedence over their equations and formulas.

“The scene is the same in every school we go to. Overcoming the initial apprehensions of teachers and breaking the ice with the students is our biggest challenge,” says Ezhilarasan, founder of Clay Fingers 7 aka Kalimann Viralgal. For over two decades now, Ezhilarasan and his small team of 20-odd volunteers have been going around the state, engaging children in arts and crafts.

From theatre arts to painting, paper crafts, clay modelling, photography, folk music and folk dance, the team has a lot of activities up its sleeve.

For most school students in the state, art and craft classes taught in the campus are a rarity. Most often, these classes are replaced by other subjects and the higher the standard, the lesser the chances of a student enjoying a good arts and crafts session.

In Perambalur, Ezhilarasan’s efforts were appreciated by the Collector, who sent an order to all government schools in the district that art classes should never be taken over by other academic courses. “Close to 40 teachers from the district thanked us saying they felt sidelined before and that the order by the Collector is very encouraging,” he adds.

In 1998, when Ezhilarasan was in his late 20s, he was plagued by the absence of something he couldn’t quite define. “Although I was with the Lalit Kala Akademi by then, I felt something was amiss. I felt art becomes better only by sharing. It should not be used for the betterment of the self alone. I wanted to share my knowledge,” he explains.

Soon, Ezhilarasan began travelling around the state, camping in different schools and training children in everything he knew. “The first five years I travelled alone. Later, with a bit more recognition, I began taking artists with me to these schools,” he says.

A man of many stories, Ezhilarasan shares that every region in the state has a specific challenge to overcome. “For students living in the mountains, cleanliness and general hygiene is the main challenge, while many children in the Tiruppur and Erode districts, because of the number of dying industries in the region, battle intellectual challenges,” he says.

The main drawback in all the villages, irrespective of the region they belong to, is that children here lack exposure, explains Ezhilarasan. “Most often, they do not know what to do after high school, so they end up choosing engineering or medicine or, in most cases, they discontinue their education. But, if you tell them there’s a school that teaches drama, there’s an institute for learning photography, there’s a centre that teaches art, they might start exploring more options,” he says.

Therefore, Ezhilarasan also makes it a point to counsel these children on these alternate courses available. While on the topic, he also explains to us that government-run schools in TN do not have special facilities for children with ADHD or dyslexia. “You can easily spot such children in a class. The same goes for spotting children living with single parents. They have a lot of frustration deep inside them. Once, during one of our sessions, a teenager just let his emotions flow, and began dancing and singing loudly. Later, we heard from the principal that he never speaks or laughs in class, and that he has been quiet ever since his parents separated. The very basic idea of our workshops is to help these children express themselves,” says Ezhilarasan.

Photos courtesy: Palani Kumar

Palani Kumar, a 26-year-old photographer from the city, known for his photography series ‘I Too Am a Child’ is also a part of Ezhilarasan’s travelling group of artists. Palani shares that it was one such experience that changed his entire approach in documenting children.

“When I taught the children at a government school in Thiruvarur, Madurai, I gained a whole new perspective. I also gained a lot more confidence,” he says adding, “I first teach them art and craft for a few days before bringing in the camera. When I give them the camera, they start thinking more. There’s so much happiness in being able to change their lives, even if it is in the smallest of ways.”

The workshops conducted by Clay Fingers has lessons in coil pottery, props for theatre, acting lessons, painting, oyilattam, mayilattam, thappattam, folk songs, photography and storytelling. Their approach is modified to suit students’ preferences. The team also holds special sessions at schools for children who are visually or speech or hearing impaired. "We have a different set of activities for these children. There's embossed art, storytelling, sculpting, etc." says Ezhilarasan.

While the team has a good number of artists on board, they often have a problem collecting the required numbers of art supplies and stationery that’s of paramount importance for their workshops. While the artists pitch in in whatever way they can, any support is welcome says Ezhilarasan.

Those willing to contribute to Clay Fingers can contact Ezhilarasan at 9841856350.

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