Boys, beasts and painting

Young men and older boys work with mule teams transporting bricks to and from the kilns.   They work a ten-day shift, then have one day off.  We were invited to join them on that day this week. As they work on a piece-rate they work hard and fast, and ensure their animals work hard and fast too.  We are told they earn about 6000 Nepali rupees per month (about $A75).

These young men/boys live together in small brick huts that they build at the start of the season in an area a little way from where we first worked. We arrived whilst they were sitting together outside their huts on the dry earth eating their early lunch – huge mounds of rice with dahl.  In one of the huts about a dozen mules were also enjoying their lunch and rest.  Before any art-making I was asked to take photos of the men and boys as well as  the mules. I always enjoy taking photos of people in their own environment as I get to see the  character of the face as well as a small insight into the person.   The stares of the brick kiln workers can be intense; they are fearless in looking directly at the camera, and most don’t pose, as such, to try to make themselves look better.

Like the people in the salt pans, the brick kiln workers also suffer dry and damaged skin from living and working in this warm and dusty environment, even some of the very small children have noticeable skin damage. They too asked us for cream.

As most of these people have had little or no exposure to the arts, or their creative self, the ambitions for each day can be small – managing the pastel, drawing shapes and patterns, learning the names of colours, and colouring in.  But it is also very much about having a creative and enjoyable time.  I find the most success in engaging  people is to start drawing simple shapes, naming the colours then passing my drawing onto some to add to and complete.   Once I have done that a few times, others understand the project and it is up and running.  We drew with oil pastels onto small pieces of cloth then painted over the drawings with bright coloured ink. The effect is dramatic.  We expect UEMS will sew these into flags which they will place around the area to help brick workers to identify important places in their area, such as where to get clean water or to go to the toilet.  

We have discovered some people here who not only can draw, but can also speak and write a little English, and one person wrote that he had a degree.

After a while one of the foremen wanted to finish the project so he could bathe, let the mules out, and wash his clothes.  As all his colleagues were engrossed, we managed to persuade him to give it another half an hour.   As it turned out, we had another hour with the group and he was one of the last to finish; he seemed to like the action of painting – as so many others also enjoy.
When they eventually left get on with other things,  smaller children came over to join in the Art School of the Brick Kilns. Most had been to the classes we ran there earlier in the week.  We are amazed by their enthusiasm for drawing and painting with ink, and for practising the shapes we had taught them.  Some  sat for hours,  a couple of children in particular just couldn’t stop – completing one drawing after another.  They brought each drawing to show one of us and we encouraged small improvements and changes – such as colouring in an area, using two colours together, a new pattern etc.  They asked for more cloth or paper as as there are plenty of  materials  we were able to give them the materials they wanted.    

All our projects need at least one local person to support our work in the community. Subarna Thapa, a social worker/child protection worker (graduate from the Nepal School of Social Work) is that main person in the brick kilns project. He is enthusiastic, organised, interested, and passionate about his role with these vulnerable communities. He’s part of a terrific team who are tackling complex problems in a very challenging place.  We also appreciate the assistance of intern  Social Worker Deepa and graduate Social Worker, Ranzana especially for their help with translation.

We also thank our many supporters, including the Children’s Art Village,  for providing funds to make this project possible.  Artists in Community International donate our time and some costs to the project.

One thought on “Boys, beasts and painting

  1. Pingback: Make do Tell 2015 | Anne Riggs

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