World Painting Tour: Chapter 7 – Emerging from the slums, Paint an elephant!

Every child in our class is a “Slumdog Millionair”. They were not waiting around to win the lottery to get out of the slums, they earned their smiles by making a choice in life! They choose to find happiness regardless of the outside circumstances that are out of their control. They are millionaires of love! You can feel it in their joy and see it in their art! This last week the youth drew their designs, made their mosaics and painted their backgrounds without anyone telling them they cannot do something. They took the opportunity to truly express their freedom with flying colors. Two girls decided to make a mosaic of Gandhi with a walking stick, another group made the Olympic torch that never goes out; two boys made a robot with arms that are water spouts, one for hot water and one for cold water. A dolphin, a boat, a guitar, an octopus, an eagle, a duck, a dragon and Pikachu exploded out of their imaginations. It was deeply touching to feel them explore freedom in the mind and heart through art!

One day we taught the youth about positive and negative space. They understood so quickly that they began teaching the adults. It’s a beautiful thing when adults are open to learn from the youth. Together in class we drew out stencils on the packing cardboard of the textile industry. These stencils proved to be the staple that flowed through all the art of this project. We used the kids stencils on the backgrounds of the mosaics from the first week to create atmosphere, the youth used some of them in their compositions the second week and we even used their stencils on the huge elephant in the large mural. The kids would point to their stencils painted on the wall and say, “That’s mine, thats mine!” Whenever we needed to fix a cardboard stencil or make a new one, or even cut a papaya, we turned to Robert Markey because we always knew he would have a utility blade in his back pocket.

The large mural was a magnet for dedicated creatives and mission oriented volunteers. Those who loved art and kids showed up and together we took the design to the next level! The tree of wisdom is growing from the mother elephant’s head with a golden sun behind it. Elephants live up to one hundred years and you feel their wisdom and compassion in their eyes. They nurture their young and lions will not even dare to attack them. This symbolizes that every child in the school, in the slums and in the world deserve to feel safe and loved. The peacock transforming into the woman represents the beauty of the divine feminine and that we need to respect women… without them we would not be alive. The dancer is the traditional dance of Gujarat and she is in the peacock pose. Her dress flows out into peacock feathers. The lotus flower rests upon her joy for dance. The hummingbird represents the vibration of mother nature’s soul and the reminder to suck the sweet nectar from the flower of life… and be playful! The mandala flowers were painted by both kids and volunteers. We finished the painting late into the eve after 15 hours of painting straight. It was soooo worth it!

Over the course of the final week in Surat we returned to a school that we had taught an art class to the first day we arrived and painted together. As promised, we also returned to the street school and painted a wall under the car headlights. The kids were ecstatic and it was an experience to never forget! We had countless amazing dinners and rolled in laughter. There are no words to describe how amazing the hospitality was from all of thePathshala NGO… we were invited by the families of almost every single volunteer. All the materials that we needed, fruit that would keep us going, electrical adapters… everything we required to be of service to the youth, Pathshala provided and if they did not know how to get it, like an extra ladder at 8 pm, they found a way! Tons of tiles are left unused and now all the volunteers and the kids we worked with know how to Mosaic and Pathshala has decided to continue the painting and mosaic in the future and assures the sustainability of FREE EXPRESSION! THANK YOU SO MUCH TO ALL OF YOU!!! None of this would have happened without you. We will miss the motorcycle rides, the laughter, the fun, the conversations AND the dancing! And to all the kids… you rock! We learned so much from all of you and you are forever in our hearts. It was such a beautiful last day sharing the stories of what has touched all of us in the last two weeks… it was a lifetime of good memories!!! See you next time!!! Photos by Mahendra Thanvi