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February 03, 2020 Monday 12:56:23 PM IST

Art Against Hatred and Intolerance

Art & Literature

Peaceworks-The Seagull Foundation for the Arts, Kolkata  is known for using art forms to talk about subjects that are essential but sensitive in the ordinary lives of people. They like to engage with young school children, to help them understand the world around them, in way that their school text books cannot. Meena Malhotra, Director of Peaceworks, talks to Supriya Deepak about how art can be used to sensitize children and adults about issues around them.

How does art work as a tool for communication?

Everything we do, we end up using the arts consciously or even sub consciously. Theatre, fine arts, poems, anything can be used to talk about issues like intolerance, racism, hatred. We talk about respecting differences, understanding differences, identity issues through different art forms.  It is much more effective than lecturing on them.

Why use art help to communicate?

It develops sensitivity as it mostly depicts human suffering. Art of such nature moves us. It helps us develop empathy, gives us pure joy, calm you down. That’s the benefit of using art, it ultimately connects people.  

Can you give an example of how your work has helped children in developing empathy?

Not long ago, we were doing a Theatre workshop project with some children living near the LOC region in Kashmir. We used to bring a group of 15 students from there and put them together with 15 students, of the same age group from Kolkata. In the end, it helped children know about each other’s  lives, culture and secrets, they even  became friends. This was possible because of the sensitivity they developed towards each other’s sufferings and acknowledged their own privileges. They learnt how to empathize.

Is art being used as a medium for communication to its fullest potential?

Art is infinite; I don’t think it will ever be used to its fullest potential. Having said that, I think there is some very good work happening across the country. Where in small pockets are people, artists, the general public are all using art to communicate their thoughts. If you see the CAA protests across the country, the posters are so creative.

Where did the idea to use art as a medium to talk about issues come from?

The idea to use art as a form of communication was a very organic process. Naveen Kishore founded the Seagull Foundation around 40 years ago. He did events in theatre, and that was a part of earning and living. He started taking photographs for documenting. The next was disseminating and that’s when the publishing was set up. When the riots of 2003 happened, we realized it was important to talk to people about violence, intolerance. So we set up PeaceWorks, (an initiative of the Seagull Foundation for the Arts).  We were all rooted in the arts and it just seemed like the most natural process, to use our knowledge and resources for this.