Various circumstances prevented 45 year-old Shefali Raj from pursuing art as a career. But today, she lives vicariously through her students in the art classes she has been running for 24 years. What began as a modest enterprise with three pupils now has centres in different parts of suburban Mumbai, a recently-launched centre in Pune and nearly 400 students.
To celebrate Pandit Nehru’s birthday and the holiday it inspired, 60 of Raj’s students have contributed a total of 166 canvas paintings to be exhibited at Worli’s Nehru Centre. The youngest student to have a painting in the exhibition is merely five years old while the oldest is 17. “The children are very excited about their first public exhibition,” says Raj enthusiastically. “Some of the older kids are a little self-conscious about how their paintings will be received. But overall, everyone is very excited.” Different children have used different tools like brushes, knives and such as own fingers as techniques in their paintings. “Most of the younger kids took about two to four hours but a few older kids took about a month to fine-tune their finished picture,” she adds.
The paintings on display will also be up for sale, the proceeds of which will be used to fund the education of underprivileged children. “I’ve been teaching art to a few kids who live in the slums near my house in Andheri,” says Raj. “As I interacted with them, I learned that many of them were forced to leave school due to financial constraints and take up odd jobs.” Raj teamed up with a few family members and friends, all of whom sponsor a child each and look after his or her educational needs. The money earned from the exhibition will be used for these children.
Through the exhibition, Raj would like her students to become more confident about their work and gain more exposure to the bigger art scene. Next year, she plans to hold another exhibition showcasing paintings by the disadvantaged children she works with. She believes that not only is art an excellent away to de-stress, but it is also an essential medium of expression for kids. “My students are free to paint whatever they want,” she explains. When her students are happy, their paintings reflect their mood through the colours they use and the subjects they choose. They’re also encouraged to embrace imperfections in their art. “My classes aren’t about promoting perfect artists, they’re about happy artists,” Raj concludes.
At: Ongoing, until November 19, Nehru Centre, Worli