Maori Carvings with Urban Light

It was my first time to go to Urban Light and I was very excited and a little bit nervous about this new place.

Urban Light is an organization, it’s a centre offering all sorts of services (Education, employment, health services, art workshops etc.) to young boys who are victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

After having Lunch with the boys, we went upstairs to the roof, to set up our workshop. But before we started the boys surprised Dear, a member of the Urban Light team with a cake and a song for her birthday. 

Then we began to explain the workshop. The theme of the workshop today was about the Maori culture, the indigenous people from New Zealand, where Elle is from. The special thing about the Maoris is, that they don’t have a written history. That’s the reason why they express their values, rules and emotions in art. There are so many figures and shapes which have a special meaning for them and their community.

Especially carvings are a very famous part of their culture. They carve into wood, bone and green stone and let arise amazing artworks with a very deep symbolism.
With the boys from Urban Light we wanted to do the carving (but just in polystyrene). For their inspiration we brought them some examples of Maori symbols:

Koru: represent new beginning

Twist: friendship, strong bond between two people/culture

Fish Hook: save travelling over water

Tiki: loyalty and fertility 

With these symbols they can describe their emotional situation, what is important for theme in life and what they want to reach in the future.

It was nice to see how the boys started directly to choose some symbols and draw it on their piece of polystyrene but they still came up with some own ideas and didn’t just copy the Maori symbols.

If they were happy with their design they started to carve it. They have to carve away the negative space so that their symbol is the only thing which will stay on it, like a stamp.

Finally they painted their carving in all colours they wanted. So some made their carving very colourful meanwhile some just use dark colours. In the end all artworks look different, unique and in a personal style.

I really enjoyed my first workshop in Urban Light and I’m looking forward to my next one!

Catching Positive Dreams with Wat Sri Supan

This week at Wat Sri Supan, a Temple School within Chiang Mai, we had decided that the two back-to-back workshops we conducted with the 10 and 11 year olds would need to produce art work for Art Relief International’s upcoming Exhibition – Imagine Your World. There have already been some great ideas and stunning creative results produced from workshops with other community groups, so the pressure was on to think of a great idea.

After much brainstorming, I finally settled on the idea of making Dream Catchers with the students. For those who don’t know, Dream Catchers are synonymous with several Native American tribes and if hung above the dreamer are supposed to allow positive dreams, which are light and fluid, to pass through the ‘Catcher’ to the dreamer, whilst negative dreams, which are thick, heavy and confused, get caught and therefore do not pass through.

However, for this workshop I wanted the students to create their own positive dream for the entire world, not just themselves. This was to be the first task – we asked students to consider what they would dream, or wish for the world, to filter through their Dream catcher and in to the ether, and then to write it down on a piece of coloured, feather shaped paper in English and Thai, to be attached to the Catcher later.

We then moved on to making the Dream Catcher itself, with each student receiving a pre-cut piece of circular card, hollow in the centre and with several small holes punched through the edges. We asked students to thread a long piece of coloured string they had received through the holes, making zig zagging shapes across the centre of the Catcher, and then adding the occasional beads to the string as they went. They then tied off the string, and the net which catches the dreams was complete.

The next task was to paint the Dream Catcher, using poster paint, in any way they wished – solid colours, patterns, shapes or even drawings. As usual, many of the students got quite elaborate with their painting, and we had to rush them to finish before the hour was up. Unfortunately we did not get time to add the ‘dream feather’ or the extra real feathers to the Catchers, which we will now do later in the ARI office, but what had been developed so far was certainly colourful, dynamic, and each one was very unique.

What’s more the students really enjoyed the task, and hopefully they will be able to convince their parents to bring them along to the exhibition in October, where these beautiful creations will be displayed, sending their positive dreams for the world in to the atmosphere!


Young Lions Strike a Pose!

The young lions are a group of super energetic, lively, and happy kids. Never in my life have I met kids who are still so full of life after a long school day.
This Tuesday our task was to create something with them for the ARI exhibition held in October.
I wanted to create something with them that really captures their energy and happy spirits.
So therefore this week we created a abstract style artwork where they had to lie down on a large sheet of canvas whilst someone else traced around them. They had to lie down in a pose that they thought suited the young lions group. How they feel about coming to young lions and how to present that in a pose. Their bodies were traced overlapping and connecting, displaying the relationship they all share at young lions.

One by one the Young Lion members came up with a pose and lay down on the canvas ready to be traced. When the canvas was covered in different poses they got painting.
Using lots of beautiful colourful colours they painted every little section a different colour.
They were super careful not to go over the lines and keep the paint within their sections.

The final outcome is a very colourful, happy work that portrays their energy and youthfulness.

Elle x

Paging Planet Earth with Starfish Home

Another exhibition-orientated workshop today, this time with Starfish Home, a school and home for orphans or children of families experiencing hardship or difficulties. The kids are only 5 – 6 years old, often very excitable, but super cute and keen to get creative. However the workshop needed to produce some individual art work that the kids did themselves, but which was worthy of hanging at an exhibition that all of Chiang Mai was invited to in October… and it still needed to fit with the theme of ‘Imagine Your World’.

Rather than asking the kids to imagine their world from scratch, I decided to literally provide them with the Earth, on card of course, and then ask them to interpret the planet through colour using tissue and crepe paper. That is, their 2D cardboard globes which already had the outlines of various countries drawn on (as if the world was being looked at from space, from several different vantage points), would be decorated using glue and torn / cut pieces of tissue and crepe paper. We asked the students to try to highlight the various continents and oceans, using any colours, patterns and designs they wished.

Some were very careful to keep within the lines, ensuring the countries were still easy to make out. Others went abstract and glued paper across the borders. Some were extremely colourful, other students sticking to a theme of purples or greens. A few used shapes and words sparingly, others piled the paper on… and some even created their own technique, scrunching paper and then gluing it on in clumps.

It was great to see them interpret the task differently and uniquely, which was the whole point of the workshop, the exhibition and with art in general. Each Planet Earth reflected each student’s ideas and thoughts on that particular day, if not their subconscious feelings and wishes for the world.

As I’ve mentioned previously, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to consider the hardship or complexities that some of these kids must cope with throughout their young lives, but to see them smile, laugh and get creative, all in the name of art and play, is certainly a very rewarding experience. Here’s hoping they get to see their work displayed at the exhibition in October!



Wat Pa Pao Rules!

I always enjoy Friday mornings, spending time with our awesome 11 students at Wat Pa Pao.
Wat Pa Pao is a Buddhist temple just outside the walls of the old city. It was founded over 400 years ago and today serves as the main community centre for Shans in Chiang Mai.
It's a beautiful environment for the students and I feel so privileged that I get to go there every week to do art workshops.

This week we were greeted by a bunch of teeny wee kittens, impossible to resist their cuteness most of us gave them a cuddle. Before we start with the art lesson we always do an English lesson with the kids first, for about 20 minutes.
Their English is out of this world! Every week I notice their improvement and ambition to learn more.
After the English conversation lesson we kicked off the workshop by explaining what we were going to be doing.
We all had to imagine a world where no rules existed, we then had to think of our own rules that we would want to put in place. We were using the road rule signs as a template but changing the rule that the sign is saying.

There were all sorts of rules being formed by
the Wat Pa Pao lawmakers.

No littering
No shoes in the classroom
Animals should be allowed to walk free; not on a leash or in a cage
No alcohol

They all really took the time to think about what rules they would like to see in the world or what's important to them. They painted their signs with great care and a lot of love. Some of the students even stayed in over lunchtime to paint!

Their commitment definitely showed in their work as we left with 11 amazing unique new road sign rules that will be on display for everyone to see in ARI exhibition.
I was really happy with how the workshop went, and look forward to Friday morning. When I get to see their 11 happy faces again (and hopefully some kittens.)

Elle x                            

Getting Inked at Urban Light

It’s fair to say that the boys at Urban Light, an organisation supporting young male sex workers and boys at risk of trafficking and exploitation, are pretty street savvy guys, and often way too cool for school. Coming up with ideas and planning workshops can therefore be pretty tricky. I therefore asked myself, “what activity would the boys engage with?” and one answer jumped out at me immediately… INK!

That’s right, tattoos. No, we couldn’t actually go get tattoos, but we could design our own. The boys had also been asking for workshops that allow them to explore their own thoughts and feelings more, given their current situation, so I came up with the idea of asking participants to design their own tattoo based on an animal of their choice which represents something about themselves. It could represent their fears, their hopes, their history, anything which helps form their identity.

I decided to use a tribal tattoo technique, which is essentially numerous shapes, generally blacked out, grouped together to form a particular image, in this case an animal. To personalise them further I also asked participants to incorporate their own name in to the design.

We began by watching a time lapse youtube video of a tribal tattoo being designed on paper, starting with the design concept, then the outline, before the final colouring and shading. The boys then jumped straight in to their designs, some choosing more harmless animals like a pig and butterfly, others more ferocious and proud beats such as an eagle, rhino and even a dragon (for the good luck it represents, we were told).

The final results were bold, brave and eye catching, not just in terms of their aesthetic (and there were some extremely skillful art works), but also in the meaning behind the designs. Only one of the boys already had a tattoo at the beginning of the workshop. It would be interesting to see if this is still the case in a few years time.