Valerie Armstrong : A riot of colour in India

Valerie Armstrong is giving a special talk entitled A Riot of Colour, about a recent mural project with children at the All Bengal Women’s Union and Childrenʼs Welfare Centre in Kolkata, India. The talk is at:

at 3pm on Saturday 4th June 2011

The talk coincides with an exhibition of her photographs, Moving Closer: The many faces of India, at the Kendrew Quadrangle Gallery, St Giles, St John’s College, Oxford, open from 4th – 7th June 2011, 11am – 5pm.

The exhibition will be formally opened at 7pm Friday 3rd June 2011, by guest of honour Rekha Mody, Founder Trustee of the Divya Chaya Trust in India. Proceeds from the exhibition will go to: Save a Child UK.

Valerie Armstrong, an artist, photographer and previously an art therapist, began visiting India about twelve years ago. She was immediately enchanted and over the years she has returned many times with her husband where they have explored many different regions and cultures in a vast, colourful and mysterious country they have both come to love.

Two years ago she was delighted to be invited to travel to Kolkata in West Bengal, India, in order to run creative workshops in the orphanages and educational centres for destitute women and children, set up by the NGO, Divya Chaya Trust in India. Valerie now returns to India annually.

Valerie Armstrong explains more about the project:

In October of last year I travelled to the Indian city of Kolkata, to run art workshops in an education centre and a child care home. These are variously supported by Divya Chaya Trust and Save a Child Save a Child. For this trip I was awarded a Suffolk Craft Society bursary, which helped considerably towards funding and enabled me to purchase lovely materials for the workshops, which are not available in India.

I divided my time equally between the two institutions; DCT Karam Bhoomi, Rajarhat and All Bengal Women’s Union Children’s Welfare Home, (ABWU) Karam Bhoomi, Rajarhat.

Rajarhat is 29 kilometers from Kolkata in a beautiful leafy rural village surrounded by rice swamps. Mosquitos thrive in their multitudes! Karam Bhoomi means joyful land. The centre was built as a holistic development and holiday camp for the sponsored children from the Divya Chaya Trust homes. The centre also serves as a skills development centre for teenagers, The Teen Outreach Group & Vocational Training for rural women: The Pallivan group. The Pallivan women come from the poverty stricken outlying villages and are taught the specialist skill of Kantha embroidery, thus are able to make a real living and develop a feeling of empowerment and self worth. Pallivan means “to bloom”, and thanks to the support of the two charities, the women are certainly blooming, their needlework is exquisite and is now selling at real and deserved prices in the West.

Women from the Pallivan group, Rajarhat, India

This year for the first few sessions at Rajarhat my friend Sarah joined me – we have worked together in the past when I practiced as an art therapist. Sarah and I worked with the Teen outreach group and the Pallivan women (shown above). We had prepared four separate workshops to cover the different groups over the two days and were able to offer two printmaking techniques to the teenagers: reduction press printing and transfer monoprinting. The second day we ran a workshop with the Pallivan group.

Most of my time in Kolkata was spent in the ABWU. I had been invited by the charity Save a Child to supervise the painting of a mural in the dining room of the children’s home. Thanks to the generosity of Suffolk Craft Society I left England with an extra suitcase filled with lovely materials such as watercolours, crayons, some brushes, some acrylic paints, multicoloured tissue papers, and metal leaf, gold & copper powders and size. Save a Child kindly offered to cover the cost of materials in India.

Children painting the wall mural at ABWU

Armed with boxes full of materials and some trepidation as to how we would begin, how the children would react to so large a project, Sarah and I set to work. We needn’t have worried; the children were already fired with energy and enthusiasm! These children are so needy and longing for affection and our concern was, how to get a mural painted under such conditions. Together we managed, and delightful images emerged, some thoughtful and remarkably sophisticated painting was produced by a group of the older girls.

I returned to Kolkata in late January 2011. The children working on the mural had made progress in my absence; lots of drawing had appeared and I saw clearly the passion of the children involved. The children were inspirational. They have suffered the most horrible of abuse and deprivation through brothels, trafficking, being plucked from life on the streets and railway stations by the police, tragic stories so familiar to us in the West; physical and sexual abuse from employers, friends and family members who they should trust.

The mural, almost finished

In the ABWU home they are given a real chance through the selfless dedication of mostly voluntary staff who give their time, energy, love and expertise. The work is entirely theirs, their creativity and focus has been awe-inspiring. The children have created a most beautiful piece of work, one that will hopefully last and change forever the depressing aspect of a room of dull grimy walls. The charisma, warmth, bravery and stoicism of the children have certainly changed me.

Valerie Armstrong surrounded by the young artists at ABWU

Divya Chaya Trust:
Save a Child:
Suffolk Craft Society: