The story of the Kids Postcard Project is a simple one, it grew from my desire to give back in a small way to the countries I love and visit most. I've always been a traveler, with a passion for exploring and sketching in old temples. After living in Japan and S.E. Asia, in 2006 I returned to the source of my fascination, India.
Aware of the poverty, I wanted a better strategy than giving handouts to street kids, but with my background in art and design, what could I offer? Art made a huge difference in my life, giving me joy as a child and teaching me creative skills that helped me succeed as an adult.
So when the opportunity arose to visit children of prostitutes in the red light district of Mumbai, my immediate thought was, let's do some drawing! Postcards were easy to carry, so that is what I took on my first visit to meet Manju Vyas, director of Apne Aap Women's Collective. I asked the children to draw their impressions of Gandhi, their work was so great that back in New York I sold them, returning the following year with money and more postcards to draw on.
Since then I've returned yearly with different themes, from mythical creatures to mandalas, Indian birds to tribal portraits. I try to expose the girls to some of India's great artistic traditions --- the Indus Valley seals, Mughal miniature painting, Hindu devotional art, Kalamkari and Gond tribal art, Kalighat painting, and the sculptures of Elephanta. We also look at contemporary Indian and Indian-inspired artists too. Last year's theme, mehindi and hand art was inspired by British artist Linda King, who generously shared her work with us.
I like to get the girls out and expose them to art in the city,. So every year we arrange outings to places like C.S.M.V.S. Museum, Jehangir Art Gallery, the Nehru Planetarium, onsite sketching at Chowpatty beach and Marine drive, and very exciting day trips to Elephanta caves, and the Kala Ghoda arts festival. In recent years we've been fortunate to collaborate with the National Gallery of Modern Art, who allow our girls to sketch in their light filled galleries, where, surprisingly, they are not shy to draw at all. N.G.M.A"s retrospective show of A. A. Almelkar inspired our beautiful 2017 tribal portraits calendar.
In 2015, aided by program director Shikha Kasyap, we did a New York – Mumbai postcard exchange. Using different techniques, I sketched postcards of New York sights, from Lady Liberty to Central Park dog walkers and sent them to A.A.W.C. The girls had to used the same techniques to draw similar sights in Mumbai --- the Gandhi sculpture, Mumbai's famous tiffin wallers! In 2017 we did an interesting drawing exchange collaboration with the education department of New York's Rubin Museum, creating hybrid animals, half drawn by our girls the other half by New York City kids.
So 13 years and many adventures have gone by. I've seen girls that were six when I started grow up and leave to pursue higher education, some returning to work for A.A.W.C. some going on to masters degrees or prestigious internships. A few years ago, timid little Paru, who trained then returned to A.A.W.C. as a kindergarten teacher, got married, and the first A.A.W.C. grandchild was born.
None of this would have been possible without the assistance and generosity of A.A.W.C. director Manju Vyas and her staff, who let me hijack their girls twice a year for the purpose of art! Manju is the very determined and dedicated woman behind the success of A.A.W.C. it was through her efforts that they were able to open a second center, in the middle of Kamathipura, with a night shelter facility – doubling their number of beneficiaries (and work!). Now, I teach at both centers, Kamathipura and Falkland Road. The girls of A.A.W.C. are the reason I love Mumbai and why it will always be my gateway to India.
In 2009 when I visited Cambodia to see the temples of Angkor I took some postcards with me. I searched in vain for a small N.G.O. to work with, then, the day before leaving Siem Reap, I was invited to a show of art by the children of a grassroots organization, Opportunities for Development through Art. Right then and there our second collaboration was made. I met founder Leng Touch, a very talented artist who had turned his home into a home and educational center for poor and disadvantaged children. As well as ensuring a good education, Mr. Leng teaches all the children watercolor painting.
My first postcards from O.D.A. were the temples of Angkor, that the children knew and drew so well. Thanks to Mr Leng they were great little artists, my job was to challenge their perceptions of art, introduce them to new themes and get them drawing outside the O.D.A. center.
Although they drew Angkor Wat constantly, like the beautiful picture above by Trai Von, I discovered they'd never been inside. It's just a ten minute ride from O.D.A and free for Cambodians, but Mr. Leng was nervous because of all the tourists. It helped to have a foreigner with them as we approached the back entrance of Angkor, we got in with no problem. The back hallways with their famous bas-reliefs were empty, and the children all sat quietly to draw the mythical creatures of Angkor, with stunning results.
We had another memorable outing in 2011, when I visited the amazing Ramayana murals locked up inside Wat Bo. Few people go inside, but I arranged with the senior monk to bring the O.D.A. kids to draw. Again, their behavior was exemplary, as they quietly sat down to draw Rama, Sita and Hanuman's monkey army fighting the terrifying Ravana. That same year we did a long but inspiring day trip to Battambang to visit the famous Phare School of Visual Arts. It was great for the children to see what a professional art training facility looked like, unfortunate that it's so far from Siem Reap and would be hard for them to attend.
However, when I met Kenro Izu later that year, founder of the famous Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap, he offered us an exhibition of the kids art in their Visitor's Center Gallery. With the kind help of Rayographix Printing Lab, we made professional enlargements of the artwork on archival watercolor paper and the show opened December 2012. It was a great occasion! The O.D.A. kids performed Khmer dance at the opening, it was the first time they saw their work hanging in a gallery setting. Thanks to the generosity of Kenro Izu and Friends Without Borders, we sold enough artwork to sponsor the building of a Palapa Art Gallery on the O.D.A. premises.
ART FOR SALE.
The art from both A.A.W.C. and O.D.A. was so beautiful, that in 2008 we produced our first calendar, of Ganesh the Elephant god and remover of obstacles, who is celebrated yearly with the biggest festival in Mumbai, called Ganesh Chathuri. From 2009 - 2014 we produced two yearly calendars, one from A.A.W.C. and one from O.D.A. with matching greetings cards. For 12 years my dedicated group of followers in the U.K. and USA, purchased calendars, cards, totes and T-shirts for sale during the holiday season, with 100 % profits being returned our two partners. After ten years of producing cards and calendars, we have decided to bring this part of the project to a close. With social media and the digital era, people are buying printed products less, I feel it's time to focus more on working directly with the children. Although we will not produce yearly calendars and cards, we may produce special editions from time to time, since the kids love seeing their work in print. We'd like to thank all of you who bought the kids art, and helped to sell the calendars and cards, or sponsor printing.
To view more of the kid's art please visit our GALLERY and CALENDAR pages.
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