It’s hard to imagine never having picked up and used a pencil or crayon, ever, in your life.
It’s probably impossible to remember ever being taught the abstract concept of geometric shapes – such as a triangle – or how to follow, then replicate a pattern. These seem so fundamental to our knowledge that we think we simply always knew them. We were, in fact, taught.
Most of the people with whom we work in the Saltpans and Bricks Kilns are illiterate. Like the women in this picture below, many have never used a drawing or writing tool before. We teach them how to hold one, and draw a line. Then a shape.
We combine art and drama to draw big shapes in the air and name them – circle, triangle, square, rectangle – then we draw them in the sand and onto paper. We have lots of paper to satisfy the pent-up excitement and enthusiasm for learning and drawing.
It is quite amazing to watch a child or adult move through the steps of learning to draw. The scribbling, the awkward circle that is usually the first sign of control and the shape most young children first draw as a head, followed by the arms and legs. In early childhood development these stages take time as the child’s brain is absorbing knowledge and the child is learning to control muscles as well as learning to master their tools; however, for older children and adults many of these things are already learned, so they pass through these early stages of drawing quite quickly.
Understanding how patterns work is another step. I have learned that these concepts which are very obvious to us who have been immersed in art, books, learning and school, are not in the least bit obvious to those living a very different life. In our time in the brick kilns and salt pans, I have become increasingly aware of how much of our thinking and learning is abstract and conceptual. Pattern making is one example of this.
Patterns are also an introduction into maths, which is another reason why we introduce them. This image below is a one of three similar large works. Each is make up of tiny pictures, 3×5 inches, each one a pattern, a shape. We made these in one of the brick factories. 100s of pictures – none of which is particularly outstanding, and yet they all are because they represent the first time most of these people ever drew.
The utter joy in having access to mountains of paper and boxes of colours, and being taught how to use them is palpable. So is the thirst for knowledge, and the determination to practice and make the most of what is, for the time being, a fleeting departure from work. We hope these encounters with creativity and learning will spark another determination – and that is to access the education that is available, and encourage parents to send their children to school.
So when you see this, you are seeing something unique and wonderful. And so many ‘first times’ : holding a drawing tool, doing art, learning about shapes and pattern, having access to paper, working with artists ….
Please support our valuable work by contributing to MAKE DO TELL : our continuing art and education program in these vulnerable communities.