The Shanti Arts for Action initiative was an intensive series of community-based public art projects that involved over 200 children, adolescents and adults from slum communities in Delhi and Mumbai, India. It was a truly unforgettable whirlwind of dance, mural painting, public theatre, music and the creation of a giant sculpture made of trash. And most importantly, many close bonds were formed between the participants, artists and educators involved. Thanks to Daniel Lalande and the Give a Hand foundation for making it all possible!
In Delhi, our team included me, Artolution co-director Max Frieder and the multi-talented dancer, educator, comedian and all-around performer, Karla-Jayne Thomas, aka CJ. We worked in partnership with some incredible local artists such as Kevin Bagchi, who creates films with youth through Kid Powered Media, and art therapist Zeba Rizvi.
Every day, we would head to the Vidya youth center in the Indira Camp community, located in South Delhi’s Okhla industrial area, where we would be greeted by dozens of hugs from excited youngsters, ready to begin a new day of art-making. Over two weeks, we guided the participants through the process of designing and painting murals that explored gender issues in their community. Meanwhile, CJ facilitated another group to create their own dance-theatre performances, which they presented to the community at two public events. By the end of each day we would usually break out into a spontaneous dance party, with the kids teaching us their Bollywood moves. We often sat around chatting until after dark, joking and sharing details of our lives and separate worlds, and we quickly formed a tight bond.
On several occasions, we took the kids into the community to collect metal and plastic trash, which they used to make the “foundstrument soundstrument,” a permanent community sculpture that was also a giant percussion instrument and monster-like creature! We also presented the youth with a gift from students in a middle school in Jackson Height, Queens in New York City: a canvas mural for the Vidya Center and a video introducing themselves. The kids were moved to receive these, and they responded by making a canvas mural for the Queens students’ school, accompanied by a video.
On the final day at the Vidya youth center, community residents and the kids’ family members all packed in to experience the final youth performance of music, dance and theatre, as well as celebrate the murals and foundstrument. In the traditional Indian way, the participants presented us with garlands and tilaks, a mark on the forehead, to bid us farewell. The moment the ceremony ended, the entire courtyard spontaneously broke into a tear-soaked hug-fest on a scale that I’ve never witnessed on any other project. The emotional outpouring was testament to how the Shanti Arts for Action was a unique, special life experience for all of us who were involved, and one that we hope has planted many seeds for the future.