Art Refuge Mural- January 2012
A report from one of our latest volunteers
All the planning in the world could not prepare me for the reality of landing in the heart of Nepal in January. A world away from that of my own, I had found myself immersed in vivid colours, amongst gods and goddesses, and dealing with the uncertainty of power shortages. Not to mention swollen hands from the chilly temperatures. My purpose was to use scenic art techniques to enable a group of young Tibetan refugees to transform a cold dark corridor into something they could be proud of and which would welcome future refugees to the Art Refuge Classroom.
It had been hugely tempting to bring my own supplies but buying locally benefits the community, is cost effect and adds to the adventure. I knew I had found my paint heaven when I ducked through a pair of delicately carved wooden shutters past a set of weighing scales balancing paint pigments. This was confirmed by the fact the owner voluntarily gave me a discount, lent me his sponges and advised me to sand the wall before painting it. The paints were brilliant. Hand painted advertising is the norm in Nepal so paint is readily available, durable and water based!
Throughout the painting process my focus was on giving everyone the chance to express themselves. My scenic art background has taught me to develop the image as a whole: placing layer upon layer with each enhancing the one before. In this situation layers built confidence. Priming the wall white provided an opportunity to show the children how to load their paint brushes and direct the paint at the wall rather than the floor, each other, or themselves. With the initial mess mopped up I could introduce blending and colour in the form of scumbling.
The children dived at the wall with such enthusiasm that you suddenly required sunglasses to be able to walk past. Scumbling created an interesting base which we added texture to with foam cut rollers and orange paint. Using white chalk I split the wall into sections so that everyone had a chance to create their own design. Many were caught between wanting to get stuck in and getting it wrong. After some positive persuasion they would reach out and realise they could do it. The next day they would rush past pointing at their bit exclaiming with glee ‘that was me, I did that!’
Meanwhile in the classroom my fellow volunteer created a mural plan to aid explanations. She scumbled big sheets of paper and asked the children to attach pictures of what they wished to go to the wall using their country of origin as inspiration. It was touching to hear their longing for familiar surroundings; apples, flowers and mountains.
The border consisted of stencils and stamps which the children had created in the classroom during the previous week. Again I introduced the stencilling in stages. We practiced in the classroom and on the wall with a simple blue stencil before moving onto their final stencils. Building it up was crucial so that the children realised how much paint they needed and could experiment with different application techniques and colour combinations. The use of lotus flowers was as a result of my prelimary research into popular symbols in their culture.
Though everyone felt a shared ownership for the emerging mural I wished to give the regulars an opportunity to design a mandala (circle) for the wall. One young man in particular stood out for me. He claimed that he could draw no more than a pencil line when I first arrived but after a week of flying paint, rollers and stencilling his face glowed with happiness as he painted a flower mandala without hesitation.
Either side of the doors we painted lion dogs. This enabled me to show everyone how to use a template and pouncing to produce a repeating image. I then challenged a small group of young adults with the basics of trompe l’oeil by painting the lions using light and dark green paint. There were mixed results but it got a thumbs up from the stream of onlookers. Within the border we did two big paintings. In theory I chose a colouring-in exercise (The Buddha) for the younger ones and an expressive landscape scene based on the mural plan for the older ones. But the younger ones drew their homes on the landscape whilst some of the older ones added detail to the Buddha. It was pure team work.
With the Buddha I made the rooky error of not understanding my source material. The children loved colouring in this one particular Buddha in the classroom so I quickly transferred it to the wall; completely disregarding the importance of the triple chin, broad shoulders, rounded form, long sensuous fingers, feet with level tread, long ears and ambiguous eyes. It turns out that a Buddha has its own rules of proportion that must be religiously followed. Everyday a crowd would gather to discuss my errors and debate the subsequent colour palette. Of course by this point I was taking advice from those in the know, but even now I am not even sure if this particular Buddha is meant to be holding a lotus flower or not. Either way in the course of three weeks the corridor had become a place to stop and smile.
The use of scenic art techniques empowered the children. They felt comfortable as they were using familiar imagery and reproducing methods that had been broken down into manageable steps. Within these boundaries they surprised themselves by creating something new. The mural enabled them to play and express their identities. My next collaborative mural requires a five day trek into the depths of Himalayas….!
SARAH KIER, January 2012
Take a look at some photos that Sarah has taken of the mural at our flickr site here.