SOCIAL ACTION PAINTING
Painting is a bridge for everyone: the children, the teachers, for us – and sometimes even beyond. They all cross and meet somewhere else through this process. We think it’s important for the children to realize that learning can also be like this – fun! free! – not just technical, not just language-based. Giving children that insight is the most precious gift. It’s just a moment, but it’s a moment that can change a life.
by Lili & Jesko
In 2012 Lili & Jesko were invited as artist in residence for three months to the Kenian island, Lamu, by the generous couple Lena Bardenhewer and Herbert Menzer. Jesko had the idea of organizing a communal painting activity in Lamu long before getting there. After arriving and consulting with locals, the Shela Schoolyard Canvases project was born: free-style painting sessions with children of the Islamic Primary School in Shela was to take place every Thursday at 4pm for the duration of our stay. Without guidelines nor theme, just letting the fantasy of the children naturally flow, Lili & Jesko waited with curiosity for what would show up. Purposely they used only local materials, to show the children there is nothing missing to start, they have already everything around them because they recognized the bad habit of “dependence” that the white man is causing. Lengths of sailcloth were sewn together to make huge canvases measuring 10 by 1.6 metres. A frame to hold these was constructed from mangrove poles. Charcoal, used for cooking, served for drawing. As for paint, they made simple egg tempera with local pigments.
Word of this outdoor painting project with the school children spread all over the island. Thus, Lili & Jesko were then asked to do two sessions with the children of Anidan Orphanage in Lamu town. The Anidan orphanage takes care of, and educates, about two hundred children, half of whom live in a shelter on site. Many of the children were physically or sexually abused before they came to the orphanage. The Anidan orphans immediately started to paint themselves and applied paint over their foreheads and cheeks, unconsciously echoing the ceremonial practices of their tribal ancestors.
At the end of the project a bunch of children took off on a dhow with a sail made from one of their huge canvasses. Over the Lamu channel they cruised, with their paintings flapping brightly above them: images of cars, helicopters, stars and hearts flying through the air, like dreams thrown to the wind.
Then, In 2013, Lili & Jesko joined a team of doctors travelling with Professor Dr. Kreusch to their annual, free project of cleft-lip and palate surgery at the Padhar Mission Hospital in Madiya Pradesh in central India, where they not only support the hospital but also three schools in the village.
A special challenge for Lili & Jesko was the fact that a lot of the children at the Padhar Mission School are mute, deaf, blind or otherwise physically disabled. Their satisfaction was beyond words when Lili & Jesko saw how enthusiastic all of them were, without exception they all participated in the project. It was beautiful to see how they helped each other, for example partially sighted children helped blind children and painted together, three-handed, or mute children formed little groups and discussed enthusiastically in sign language what subject they wanted to paint together.
What Lili & Jesko experienced was that it is a beautiful inspirational interaction when up to 100 children paint at the same time on these huge open-air canvases. Girls and boys were both equally creative and active, handicapped and non-handicapped children painted together. This is very helpful for the prevention of violence, it brings the group together and supports team spirit and encourages self-confidence and sustains creativity. In only one week Lili & Jesko painted large canvases measuring 200 metres by 1.8 metres with the children. At the end some of the canvases were displayed on the hospital grounds to make it more joyful and colourful.