Since last year, Puja Chauhan has been holding free visual art classes for about 40 children from poor communities.

Inspired by Savitribai Phule Hyd teacher educates underprivileged kids with art
news Education Friday, January 04, 2019 - 16:41

An art teacher in Hyderabad is providing free visual arts classes to about 40 marginalised children, after being motivated by the teaching philosophy of Savitribai Phule, the first Indian woman teacher.

Puja Chauhan, who works as a guest faculty with International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), Hyderabad, organised ‘Savitribai Phule Drawing Class’ in the locality Masjid Banda, Kondapur, almost exactly a year ago. On Thursday this week, the results of those efforts were displayed in an art exhibition, featuring drawings, caricatures, paintings, and wood cut prints by the talented kids under 15 years of age. It was held in Masjid Banda Basti on the 188th birth anniversary of Savitribai Phule, steps away from Hyderabad Central University.

The inspiration behind the idea

Savitribai Phule set up the first girls’ school in Pune and later 17 other schools. She worked for women’s empowerment and fought relentlessly against gender discrimination despite all obstacles. People have even taken to social media demanding the declaration of Savitribai’s birthday as Teachers’ Day.

Last year, Puja met locals to explain her idea of teaching art to underprivileged students. The community at Masjid Banda was happy to offer Ambedkar Vignana Kendram, a community hall in the locality, and Ramulu, a local ward member, mobilised students to attend the visual art classes. The first art class in the community hall was eventually held last year on January 3, 2018. About 40 children from the locality attended her classes on Saturdays and Sundays.

The children not only learnt to paint various themes from all walks of life and nature, but they also painted portraits of Ambedkar, Savitribai, and Fatima Sheikh after being inspired by stories told by Puja. The art teacher says that she wants to continue her classes by raising funds through the art of her children, and not by charity.

A open path to art

Tabassum and Maheen come from a poor minority family of nine children. Out of the nine children in the family, four attend the classes held by Puja. A gardener at State Bank of India is the sole breadwinner of the family. Without the access to free visual art classes, these children would have been unable to participate.

Puja recounts, “The girls who attend the classes have to manage daily chores, fill water, take care of infants. Most of the times these children are asked to do the household works and find it difficult to attend the classes. Tabassum and Maheen take turns to baby sit at home.”

The students’ artwork was praised by eminent artists and teachers who visited the exhibition. Speaking to TNM, Shanti Swaroopini Roy, head of Department of Sculpture, Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University, said, “The yearlong training imparted to the students has come in handy. These kids have proved that given a chance anyone can learn and perform visual arts by thorough practice.”

The children’s budding creativity is evident from their artwork. When several students were given shown a photograph of Hima Das and tasked with drawing a picture of the runner on a track, each one of them drew something unique: Hima Das running on a track, another one on the lawn and one more with a time lapse effect. “We often go to art exhibitions in big art galleries. There will be art but most of the times not much involvement of the artist. Now, I realise what was lacking in the work of so-called artists,” said V Narsinga Rao, a fine arts professional.

Using art as a vehicle for learning, Puja is seeking to recall the achievements of inspirational leaders who have been largely forgotten by society. “Most of the children go to government school, where art would not be taught as a subject but as co-curricular activity. Children will learn the stories and themes by heart, if you teach them through art. Art works where even language fails.”