February 7, 2013
This week has been all about art (and the scheduling of it). I like art a lot. I’ve always liked drawing and painting but wasn’t very good at it. I keep trying and get a little bit better sometimes. I recently painted a jacana (also called the Jesus bird because it appears to walk on water). In the painting, the bird itself looks really good. If you doubt me, fly over here and take a look. But the background is quite bad. I don’t know how I can paint a bird but not some water reeds.
But my real interest in art is in being a viewer, learning about the history and theory behind it, and exposing others to it. I studied art history at university and worked at the arts and science area at the Building for Kids (a children’s museum in my hometown). Now I’m starting an after school art club for the students here, something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
Scheduling the art club has been a tremendous task. I began last year to talk to the school principal to get permission to hold it after school. That was cleared. At the beginning of this year, I brought it up again to make sure it was still ok. It was. Then I put up a poster and asked students to write a brief essay if they wanted to join. Many students seemed excited and, on the appointed day, I received essays from 44 students. Most of them went like this:
Dear Mrs. Zornow,
My name is Xolani Mamba. I am in grade 6. I would like to be in art club to learn how to drawing. I want to draw a house. I want to draw a car. I want to draw a school. Good luck to you.
44 was much more than I expected and decided I would have to split it into two groups. I went to the principal’s office to let him know it would have to be in two groups and to see what classroom I could use. He gave me a few room options before, but I wanted to wait and see how many desks I would need.
I met the principal in his office and thought it would be a quick check-in meeting. But suddenly all of the “ok” responses turned into “don’t you know we are doing athletics after school every single day this term?” Yeah… disappointing, huh?
I ended up going back to his office and explained how I felt, he explained how he perceived the situation but there was still the problem of when to do the art group. I finally decided that I should ask the kids what they thought.
I tried to be really cheerful during the first art club meeting while explaining the rules and the projects we would be making. I didn’t want this experience to be ruined for anyone but I was secretly really worried. I told the students the situation about the times and asked who would be willing to meet twice a week after athletics. I rambled a bit about how I knew they would be tired, but it would be worth it to be in art club and they would have time to get some water in between, etc. But I couldn’t keep talking so I finally had to stop and let them respond, whether or not the answer would disappoint me. So I asked, “Who could do that time after sports?” 23 hands went in the air. I felt a bit emboldened but still nervous to ask who would be able meet on Saturday morning for 2 hours. Another 23 hands went in the air!
The students have signed up for the group they wanted to be in. There are now 28 students in the art club, 2 groups of 14. A few did decide they didn’t want to do it at the times available to us but many more did want to make the commitment.
So I had my first group on Tuesday. They really enjoyed it. I have a big puzzle in the library that I brought up for the class and everyone put a piece in as they introduced themselves to the group. I wanted the first week to be focused on some basic skills. I thought it would be mostly review. I planned for that first day to do two templates, one on shapes, one on shading. I was really surprised to see so many kids struggling with drawings circles and stars and spirals. And almost all the students were thrilled to see how you could smudge pencil lines to shade an area of the paper. I left a blank spot at the end of the templates called “free” so they could experiment on their own. At the end, a few students kept calling out “Free education!” while using their pencils to make rapid dots on the paper.
It was fun, and it reinforced the clear need the students here have for a creative outlet and a place where they can practice important skills. There are some practical art projects included in the school curriculum but many of them are cut because of lack of supplies or teacher know-how.
I’m excited for all of the things we are going to do in the art club, but Oliver and I have also tried to incorporate a lot of art projects into the activities for the kids who live at the hostel.
This school year, 20 students will be living in the hostel and last night Oliver and I decided to make Valentines with the children. We explained the holiday (it only makes an appearance in the major cities of Swaziland) and I showed them one I made. All the kids were excited but what took the cake was when I held up a piece of paper, folded it in half, cut a curved line and suddenly opened up a heart. It never seemed that amazing to me, I’ve been doing it since I started kindergarten, but this was like magic for the kids.
Everyone got a piece of paper and we had scissors to share and I said to start. The littlest kids couldn’t get their paper folded while the oldest kids managed to cut a shape but it either looked like a triangle or circle with jagged edges. I knew how amazed they were just a moment ago, but I didn’t connect that right away to how they could have trouble replicating the simple cut.
Most of the papers were salvageable and decorated with red stickers, crayons, markers, and a heart hole puncher. But we also had our share of a Valentine Massacre. Hearts were cut in half, glued to a table, cut and recut until they were as small as a quarter.
At the end of it all, Oliver and I just looked at each other, amazed at the difficulties this project brought. We’ve done lots of projects with the kids, but never one that required cutting paper. I was a bit disappointed they didn’t have nice, big hearts to give their parents, but realized how important the lesson was and the kids clearly enjoyed showing off what they’ve made. I’ve always had craft paper at home, at school, at my grandmother’s house, wherever, and I could cut until my heart’s content, getting new paper if I had messed up. But here Oliver and I do not have a large supply for students to make and do what they like. Maybe this was their first time to try and transform a square piece of paper, but also maybe, with practice, they can teach their children the magic of taking simple supplies and make a dazzling object to show another person that you care for them.
Rebecca is Currently Reading: Wild Swans
We are Currently Watching: Game of Thrones, Season 1