Since 2014, the girls enrolled in the evening class have been taught by Kusum Kohli, an educationist with a vision and long years of experience. Initially the girls had no knowledge of English so Ms. Kohli put emphasis on speaking and reading. They soon developed a love for books, and book discussions often took place in the classroom. After a year or so when they were more proficient in the language, drama, art and poetry were introduced into the curriculum. The girls applied themselves with energy and enthusiasm. Much to their delight, all the good work they created was displayed and discussed, becoming a learning resource.
An art aficionado, Kusum Kohli had always believed that all teaching should be related to art. At Sunney’s Amanat, the girls’ response to the subject was initially stiff and stilted. But their innate imagination and creativity started to open up with exposure to illustrated books like those of Tulika and Tara, images of folk and tribal art from India and the works of great world artists like Rousseau, Kandinsky and Matisse. Nature, too, became an inspiration. The girls began to experiment, to play with colours, textures, forms, styles and compositions and to create art of their own from deep within them. Soon there was no stopping them. It was then that they created the works on view in this exhibition: expressive, vividly coloured paintings of nature; stories narrated by their grandparents and parents, as well as poems, all evocatively illustrated.
In creating the works, the girls used acrylic colours; sometimes wax crayons were used to give depth to the images. They painted without preliminary pencil drawings, but when figures were included they drew the outline with a brush. No copying was involved. Everything came from their imagination. The theme was provided by Ms. Kohli, and while they were painting, if she felt something could be improved, she made suggestions or showed them techniques.
The whole process built self-esteem and confidence in the girls. There was a sharing of ideas and great learning happened. Earlier they had never worked in this creative way but they were more than were ready to embrace the opportunity. They go to an ordinary government school but they are very bright and motivated.
The seven girls whose work is included in the exhibition all come from illiterate or semi-literate families. Some of their fathers hold jobs as gardeners and cooks; one is a dhobi and another an electrician. Some of their mothers work as maids.
Nevertheless, they want their girls to be educated, independent and to have careers. They are keen for their daughters to be integrated in the mainstream while preserving their cultural heritage and traditional values.
The exhibition Images and Words from a Village in the Valley exemplifies the way in which this goal can be attained. Above all it proves that the lives of disadvantaged young people, especially girls, may be transformed by committed organisations such as Sunney’s Amanat and inspired teachers like Kusum Kohli.
About the Curator
Kusum Kohli has worked in many institutions in India and abroad. These include: the Cambridge High School in Dubai; the Westminster Children’s Library in London; Calcutta International School; and The British School, New Delhi where she worked for 20 years as class teacher to year 6; for a year she was Acting Principal of the Primary School; an advocate of cross curricular methods, she also served on the school board, wrote school policies and developed effective cross curricular planning and assessment strategies. After her retirement she worked for two and a half years at the Purkal Youth Development Society as Head Teacher and Principal.
Sunney’s Amanat, a trust, was established by Sunney Singh in 2006 and has been carried forward since his death by his family in Delhi: his wife Pomma, son Aditya Singh and daughter-in-law Mona Luthra Singh. Since 2014 it has been run by Zarina Bath. Close to 40 girls benefit from the trust, attending morning or evening classes before and after school.
The second edition of Valley of Words is scheduled for 23-25 November, 2018. We look forward in welcoming you for 3 days of joyous celebration.