Kalyani Voleti has been a successful Visual arts educator, handling primary and secondary schools for nineteen years. Her mantra is to make creativity the epicenter of learning as creativity can bring about a spark, a spontaneity in expression and the possibilities are always interesting and exciting. She has worked in schools in India and Japan, given Art and Origami workshops in India, USA, Japan, Africa and other countries, both on site and online. She is currently Project Coordinator of the Japan Art Mile International Mural Exchange Project.
On behalf of WEQIP, artist Namita Jain caught up with her to understand more about her initiative ‘Art from the Heart’
Q: What is the starting point of your journey in art?
Growing up, I enjoyed art in school. As time went by, I improved my skill. I went into art teaching in Mumbai and it’s been nineteen years now and I have enjoyed the creative journey with my students, learning and growing with them.
Q: Given the current scenario, how can art help children communicate their anxieties to adults?
Art is a powerful tool for expressing our innermost feelings. Line, form, colour are significant indicators of well-being. Art can be used to decipher subtly and gently what is going on in the child’s mind. Pictures do speak a thousand words. We only need to be perceptive and read the stories that the children are narrating through their art.
Q. What extra planning goes into preparing for your art sessions with special needs individuals?
Special needs can range from emotional, psychological to behavioural and physical. In my experience, attention span deficit in the classroom required me to be ready with several zones in my art room. A painting station, an origami corner, a book corner, a maker space, a sorting station. Students could hop onto engage themselves in one or more of these zones. In general, a kinesthetic art lesson relieves the restlessness and generates excitement and curiosity amongst them.
Students with physical challenges needed accessible materials and ease of working. I found that a buddy system worked really well and built empathy and sensitivity among the classmates. Empowering them by making workable tools, comfortable workspaces where they can work alongside regular children is the way I plan my art sessions.
Q: Kindly throw some light on how you enable these children to cope/ thrive in an environment surrounded with regular children.
Treating all students alike is the most effective way to enable students with challenges to thrive. Too much attention towards them is detrimental to their functioning. It also encourages regular children to seek attention. Creating ground rules that are fair and sensitive to everyone is a safe and unthreatening way to run the class.
Q. Share a few stories of where art has helped them in other areas of life or in building important skills.
Art has helped with anger management, confidence building, increased concentration and exploring their potential.
- I remember how origami calmed an angry, restless boy and revealed his potential as a superior, skilled origami artist. Origami also was an avenue to raise the confidence level of a shy, introvert student. Just being there for them and giving them access to books, diagrams, videos, etc., helped them to thrive in their area of interest and revealed their prowess in the medium. They outgrew the teacher in me and soon we were learning together!
- One of my most heartening stories is a student with Spinal Muscular Dystrophy, who was such a fantastic artist, she was easily the best artist in the class. Although completely confined to the wheelchair and with very limited mobility of her wrist, she had an incredible imagination and a positive vision that was an inspiration to everyone around. Not only was she a skilled artist, her intellectually stimulating and thought provoking expressions provided a window to her thoughts and dreams. She was indeed specially abled.
Q. Please share a few pieces by your students which have really touched you. A line of two of description of each piece would be helpful.
This Origami by the student won him the first prize at a prestigious competition. His work was not just perfectly folded origami, his expression of the idea of peace was conceptualised solely by him while he grappled with anger issues.
These exquisite works of origami are the works of a shy, introverted student with a slight speech impediment. His focus and ability to challenge himself was such a pleasure to watch. He rose above everyone in his expertise but remained grounded and humble always. I learnt so much from him.
These amazing works (below) are by a specially-abled student who proved that disabilities are only in the mind! Despite her extreme condition, her art expression was undeniably the best in the class.
Q: Please share a few art therapy activities and exercises that can be helpful to parents and children with special needs.
Connect the dots…
Place 15 dots anywhere on the page. Number them randomly, not in a series. Now join the dots according to the numbers. Make sure that the lines intersect wherever possible. Join 1-2, 2-3 and so on until 15-1. What do you see? What does it look like?Take a good look at the drawing. Can you see a form in it. Turn the page vertical, horizontal, and try to see more than the lines. Perhaps there is a fish, a dog, a face that has emerged from the lines. Colour it. Add details to it.
Can alphabets express a feeling? Can you express a mood of fun and happiness with your name? Let’s find out…..
Write your name in a nice, decorative and fun way. Write in double lettering. Think of shapes to make the alphabets into double letters.
Think of the cartoons you see.
Now think of how you can make the letters like cartoons, giving them eyes, smiles, funny caps, dresses, hands, legs, shoes, etc.
Make a big star shape or any shape around your name.
Decorate with interesting patterns and colours around the shape.
Use sketch pens, oil pastels to colour the picture. Try to use one colour and a similar pattern for the letters so that the name is visible.
Q. How can we incorporate art-therapy programs in schools and how do they benefit the community?
Art Therapy for me is an avenue of expression, where the journey is more important than the destination, where freedom is given and restrictions are non existent.
I would recommend that the target group should not know it is therapy. A day dedicated to fun filled art activities where the focus is on fun with art activities will relieve any pressure associated with outcomes and judgments by others.
The benefits are abundant. Not only will educators assess the individuals, the target group will express without inhibitions and also just grow from the experience, taking away some truths which were erstwhile not internalised by them due to peer pressure, diffidence, lack of self worth.
You can connect with Kalyani Voleti via: