Painting messages into their hearts

A Unicef-led art initiative presents issues plaguing the children of Kannagi Nagar by turning a wall at the J11 police station into a canvas

With the compound wall at J11 Kannagi Nagar Police Station being the canvas, these children were milling around it excitedly on the morning of November 20, painting images of positivity. Think rainbows, sunflowers and blue skies. Next to these evolving images were completed images that provided a sharp contrast to the picture. Think swirls of smoke, vacant benches in classrooms and an unhappy domestic scene. The images are a grim reminder of existing realities in Kannagi Nagar. Child marriage, substance abuse and school dropouts.

Though underplayed, the verbal component bullishly decried these realities. They had to stop — and this message was aimed at the parents as well as the children. The parents would also participate in the transformative-art project. More about that later.

Kannagi Nagar painting initiative by Unicef and InkLink on World Children’s Day. 

Kaustav Sengupta, founder of InkLink, reveals that Inklink volunteers conducted a survey to ascertain which were the more stubborn and destructive issues affecting the children of Kannagi Nagar.

“Having worked with the community and the children as part of an empowerment-through-art project, we were aware of these issues. However, we did not want to come across as imposing our perceptions on the initiative, hence the survey,” explains Kaustav.

Young InkLink volunteers and a bunch of young students from Government College of Arts handled the message-laden paintings.

“We researched the local children’s skin tone and body structure before painting these images, the idea being that the children and the parents should be able to relate to the images,” discloses Kaustav.

The wall — called the “Wall of Child rights” is bang opposite the central square which is overlooked by massive paintings that define facades. They had been painted as part of the Kannagi Nagar art district project.

Role models

At the Wall of Child Rights, K Hashika paints sunflowers. Double-masked with the ear loops of a surgical mask criss-crossed for added protection, she enters into a debate about her age with an InkLink volunteer. She insists she is eight and not seven as reported by the volunteer. Either way, she remained the youngest “painter” at work on the wall. She is probably too young to understand the import of the painted messages, but old enough to appreciate “breathing messages”.

Other young painters from the community were at the wall serving as role models to her. It would be untruth to say she was painting with then shoulder to shoulder. At this juncture, she has to only up to them in a literal as well as a figurative sense. J Jasmine and R Karthikeyan are pursuing second year Bcom at different colleges, and as residents of Kannagi Nagar, they are an inspiration to the younger lot. Both Jasmine and Karthikeyan were part of InkLink’s art empowerment programme at Kannagi Nagar. They still are, but now as InkLink volunteers.

There were around 30 Kannagi Nagar children at the Wall of Child Rights and they are all studying at the government school within the community, and are part of the InkLink programme. From the Police Boys and Girls Club, some of these children have an additional factor of positive influence outside of home. The fact that this initiative has the support of the J11 Kannagi Nagar Police Station makes it a three-braided cord.

ACP for Thoraipakkam PK Ravi notes that when Unicef and InkLink sought permission for the painting exercise, he was impressed with what it focussed on.

It was in neat alignment with issues regularly faced in the community. He also noted that the police boys and girls club places equal emphasis on studies and sports as a two-pronged exercise to empower these children.

Being inclusive

At the Wall of Child Rights, another set of children were wielding paint brushes. From an international school, their worldview is likely hugely out of sync with the one held by the Kannagi Nagar children. The exercise was an attempt to help them put aside the prism of privilege and find it in themselves to empathise with the less-privileged. “As part of ‘Art At Heart’ initiative, we get children from Kannagi Nagar and those from HLC International School to sit and paint together,” shared Kaustav to drive home that what was happening at the Wall of Child Rights was an extension of an ongoing exercise.

Parents quizzed

In the post-lunch second half that took place in the Police Boys and Girls Club facility at Kannagi Nagar, the programme got parents to be children and visualise the latter’s world and draw it on paper.

“We are asking parents to be children on Global Children’s Day and like children, they have to sit down and do some painting and present their understanding of children’s rights in a post-pandemic world. Through this exercise, one can address the parents’ perception about these issues,” says Sugata Roy from Unicef. “A lot has changed due to the pandemic, and children have missed out on regular education and how they are going to cope with this situation remains to be seen. It is also necessary to address the possibilities of exploitation and neglect of children, post-pandemic.”

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