The lanes bordered with tightly-packed homes in Valluvar Nagar are quiet on a recent Sunday, as wintry sunshine tries to reach into this crowded neighbourhood of Tiruchi’s shopping district. A few turns later, the gates of the Hazrath Natharvali Middle School come into view where a group of young artists is busy decorating the stairwell with a visual guide to multiplication tables.
This is Artopathy, a voluntary art collective run by 8 students of K Ramakrishnan College of Engineering, Samayapuram, that has been repainting classrooms in government schools for the past year.
Aided at times by other local volunteer groups, Artopathy is trying to bring not just colour, but also some respect back into the educational institutions.
“I was drawing portraits under the Cauvery bridge during my spare time. But these used to get erased by the Corporation. So I thought that I should try to showcase my love for art in a different space. It didn’t matter where I drew,” says B Alagu Raja, the third year Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE) student who leads the group.
When a plan to undertake a public painting project got cancelled, Raja decided to use the art materials he had bought with his portraiture earnings to spruce up the interiors of a classroom in a government school in the village of Rasamapalayam, around 30 km from Tiruchi.
Fellow students J Colleen Jemimah (final year Electronics and Communication Engineering), Abinaya Thiru, Aishwarya Dhevakumar and Jemema Paul (all third year ECE), R Dhinesh Kumar and R Ranjeet Skanda (both third year EEE) and Priscilla Robert (third year Computer Science Engineering) joined Raja to form what would later become Artopathy.
“The principal allowed us to paint one classroom as a trial over a weekend. Some of us started working at midnight on Saturday and sketched the outlines. Another group filled in those drawings the next day until the evening. The rest of the work was finished by Alagu Raja,” says Ranjeet Skanda.
The Artopathy team took the help of local group Trichy Social Squad (TSS) to complete the whitewashing of the walls in the rest of the campus. TSS later put in a water tank and renovated the toilet complex of the school.
“We feel good that we are giving something innovative and attractive to the children studying in the government schools. These institutions need the help of young artists like us,” says Abinaya Thiru.
That first classroom cost Alagu Raja ₹15,000, and the current Valluvar Nagar project (where four classrooms and the stairwell of the old building are being repainted), has already run up a bill of ₹6000. “As students, we are donating our time and skills to the project. Government schools are already short of funds, so we don’t ask them for any money, but we do welcome anyone willing to share the expenses,” says Raja.
So far, the group has worked only during weekends and extended holiday periods so that the normal schedules — both theirs and the school’s — are not affected. “When we are working, with children in the classes, we can see the excitement on their faces. Touching paints and brushes is a very new experience for these youngsters, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Abinaya.
“At times, we allow the kids to doodle something on the walls. We also ask the staff for feedback on possible topics, and they suggest subject-related drawings that will help children to remember their lessons,” says Colleen. “Many college students are interested in art, but they don’t want to be part of our project unless they are paid for it. I wish more young artists, especially women, would come forward to share their skills with the public,” she adds.
Artopathy has now been invited to paint a school in Namakkal, but this will be possible only when the Valluvar Nagar campus gets done and the funds are in place. Member Dhinesh Kumar R, raises alerts on upcoming projects through social media. Some of Artopathy’s work can also be seen on their Instagram account.
Will the career paths of these artistic budding engineers change after graduation? “Our parents have accepted our passion for art because it is yoked with social work. In the future too, I feel we will be involved in art in some way; I hope we’ll be able to stay in touch,” says Colleen, who, like others in Artopathy, is getting into commercial art projects separately.
The visual appeal of their work has a dual purpose, says Alagu Raja. “We have targeted schools that are away from the city, deliberately. We want to show that educational institutions run by the government can also look bright and welcoming to their students. It’s not just about pretty pictures.”
More information: Alagu Raja (Mob: 8508608328); www.instagram.com/artopathy/
For a clean city
Trichy Social Squad (TSS) is one of the many voluntary groups that have got together to beautify the city on their own steam.
Comprising of 150 Tiruchi residents from all walks of life, TSS has a core team of 20 people to raise funds for causes like tree plantation, children’s education and the refurbishing of public structures in and around the city.
TSS volunteers (several of whom are also non-resident Indians) have been actively helping out with the relief work after the Gaja cyclone. They have repaired the roofs of two school buildings in the Pudukottai district. “Student groups like Artopathy give us hope for the future; youngsters bring their own energy and enthusiasm into social work,” says a TSS member.
More information: Monisha (Mob: 9677580606); www.facebook.com/Trichysocialsquad/