A perfect dose of critical thinking

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Still thinking of the conversation I had with a thirteen year old & a ten year old last week. In one of the online art sessions, I was showing drawings and paintings by famous artists that depicted woman or a girl resting. It’s a weekly art session outside school and I wanted the children to draw a woman resting – sleeping, lying down, sitting and sipping coffee or tea or leaning against the wall. It could be a girl or a woman – any age group, urban or rural, outdoors or indoors but taking rest in some way or the other. Not sure, why I chose this topic. May be, I myself was too tired and was craving for some rest. To initiate the topic, I was showing how different artists have depicted such themes and it can become an interesting topic. I was discussing about the artists, their style, what kind of details they included, to which country they belonged or what was the general scenario during the time the work was made. 

While I was showing the works by artists, suddenly the thirteen year old girl, said why does all these art works don’t mention the name of the person?   Why are they nameless such as Woman resting on a charpoy, or The young girl resting or A girl asleep?  Why don’t they have specific names? To this, the ten year old boy responded – too many names often hog too much attention. This excited me a lot. I let them talk for a while about their distinct viewpoints and was trying to understand their reading of the artwork. I am still curious about the reasons behind their observation. This asserting of individual identity by the little girl excited me a lot. I am tempted to interpret it further. However, I will refrain from that and not burden it with a grown up’s interpretation of the world. At the same time, her assertiveness cannot be missed. Even the response of the boy seemed appropriate to me in a world where majoritarianism constantly labels the other; in names we end up reading nationality, religion, caste etc.

After seeing the artworks, I asked them to sketch their mother or any other woman at home when they are resting so that we can start working on the topic next week. The sketches would help them to understand the formations of the figure. To this, they both blurted out – where? Where is a woman resting? My mother is constantly working. One of them added that though old, his grandmother sleeps only when everyone else at home is about to sleep. Till then she is constantly doing something or the other to help out everyone with their chores. The spontaneity in their reaction really made me think about what children see and how they interpret it. They read with a pair of eyes and mind which is fresh and thus, there is fluidity in their thoughts. It didn’t seem relevant to me to find out whether there’s a man resting at home; whether that’s commonly visible. Women folk hardly rest-that’s it. The observations were inter-generational and across different economic groups – mummy, maternal aunt, grandmother, didi (the house help).

By the end of the session, I briefly explained what it was in their comments and interpretation that caught my attention. According to me it is important to explain children rather than thinking it’s too early. It also made me reflect about all those instances when our institutions and authorities like schools, education board, fellow educators, parent groups and resource persons often feel content for children should have nothing to do with politics or it should be apolitical. But then how do you address these observation or understanding? Generalizing, ignoring, suppressing or simply hiding them under the carpet?

While all these thoughts are going on in my mind, the discussion made me search more examples of drawing, paintings and sculptures depicting woman resting.  Several works do have the name especially when the model is related to the artist or a famous personality. I was excited to find a drawing by Kathe Kollwitz titled Lise sleeping on a sofa & a sketch by Henri Matisse titled Lydia Delectorskaya resting on her arms. I am planning to share these with the children next week.

Note: The images include Amrita Shergill’s Woman sleeping on a charpoy; Francois Boucher’s The young girl resting; Johannes Vermeer’s A girl asleep; Kathe Kollwitz’s Lise sleeping on a sofa & Henri Matisse’s Woman resting & Lydia Delectorskaya resting on her arms