Basharat Bashir


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In 20th century we witnessed many social art movements in which art is used as therapy to heal and overcome from illnesses which are not acceptable by society, Bindu Art School Movement is one of them. The BinduArt project was intended to use art as a new way of life for people affected by leprosy.In India about 0.5 million people who are infected with leprosy since the last 20 years live as “untouchables”. Mostly they are pushed to the edge of the society and are dependent on alms. There are estimated to be over 1,000 leper colonies in India. Although leprosy is a curable disease but social stigma is still existent.Bindu Art School was set up in 2005 in the Bharatapuram leprosy colony in southern India by Austrian artist Werner Dornik and Padma Venkataraman, an activist who first brought the concept of microlending to leprosy colonies. In the school,students mostly unlettred from different religions between the age group of 25 – 94 years takedaily classes along with meditation.

On one of his visits to the Bharatapuram colony, Werner was very impressed with the traditional Indian ‘kolams’ that were being drawn by people whose fingers were deformed and reduced to stubs. Werner thought that using art as a therapy would be a good idea. But, as some of the elderly residents of the colony had hands that looked like claws, Werner taped paintbrushes to their fists and started them out with just two colours, black and blue. At first, the general mood of the painters resulted in art that was dark and depressing.As they began to indulge deeply in art activities, their art became more creative, blissful and it also affected their behaviours, instead of not even talking to each other, they started to laugh and play games together. Eve use of pain killers was reduced. One of the students, former handloom worker Armugam who was forced to begging when he contracted leprosy, says, “I am so happy today. I realise I can also be creative. And at night when I sleep, I dream of colours.”

According to Werner therewas no teaching there. The aesthetics were all their own. Students started with black and white, before they move on to colours. When they finally get to use all the colours, there’s an abandoned explosion of life like forests, pink sunsets and even a hospital, lined with patients that’s a combination of colours and honesty, but no pain.And also, there were no rules or any such thing as good or bad nor the technical details of art were important. The students were free to paint anything. Many of the paintings featured colourful variations along with a concentric circle that represent focused attention which they really need from the society.The logo of the school that is the ‘iris of an eye’ is also pertinent to the aims of the school, which works to remove social stigma by changing perspectives and perceptions. In these colonies the art acted as both a medium for self-expression and as a social catalyst for all the students of the school.

Through the exhibitions at national as well as international and even online platforms, the students of Bindu art school gains financial independence without any discrimination of receiving alms.In March 2006, first exhibitionof  paintings from Bindu art school was organised in Chennai and received a virtuous response. After thei r fir art exhibition many artists from Bindu Art school have subsequently had their work shown in trendy galleries around the world from Vienna and London to Washington and Tokyo. Some of the paintings have sold for 200 euros. One of the four painters who made the trip to Vienna told in an interviewer that he had received so much love and respect there that he almost forgot he was suffering from leprosy. This is quite a statement for someone who had lived most of his life as an illiterate ‘untouchable’.The project aims to be self-sustaining. All money from the sales of the paintings goes to the artists and the project: one-third to the art school, one-third to the artists and one-third to art schools in the other leprosy colonies. Another similar school has recently been set up in Varanasi.

The Bindu Art project has revolutionized the lives of a few of the world’s most disadvantaged people.The students of the Bindu art school movement support similarly affected individuals with a part of their income and teach them, what they have learned. For leprosy effected people this unique process far away from charity means a resurrection into a life, in which they are met with esteem and respect. This movement is now supported by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Austrian government and the Nippon Foundation in Japan. Reputed Indian artist S.H. Raza had indefinitely supported this movement and Aparna Kaur one of the leading artist of India  is also involved in the project.

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