It was 2006. I had completed my graduation in sculpture two years before and just received my Masters degree in archaeology and ancient Indian culture. I was desperately in search of a job. One of my friends suggested I approach an applied art college which was looking for a teacher. I went to meet the principal. She saw my degrees and reminded me that it was an ‘applied’ college; apparently my degrees in fine art and archaeology were not applicable enough for me to get a job. I told her how I felt that all subjects were tools to understand your own self in a better way. She looked at me. I guess my stars were good that day — she decided to give me a chance.
The principal asked me to come back two weeks later with a lecture that would be useful for students of applied art or advertising. I went home thinking hard about what was to be done. She certainly didn’t want me to talk about my theory that all subjects are actually one. She wanted to be assured that I would be worthy enough for the post. I tried hard to think of some ‘applicable’ examples to illustrate my theory. I decided to give a visual presentation on Indian culture in Indian advertising. In my presentation I used simple contemporary advertisements where one could actually see how they used typical Indian culture to help the product reach the Indian peoples’ hearts. I also talked about the concept of culture and its impact on art. And, by this I meant any art, whether applied, fine or performing and that is why I thought learning about culture was necessary for any artist.
I finished my presentation. The principal was very happy and offered me the job. But while working with them, I realized their curriculum was restricted to making advertising campaigns, doing photography and learning all required computer applications. Even though the principal liked the way I wanted to connect fine art, study of culture and advertising together, she too was bounded by the curriculum. Students were learning ‘forms’ there and there was no interest in teaching thinking skills to these students. My presentation definitely helped me to get the job, but as a working staff they also wanted me to do lots of office work and piecemeal teaching here and there. I started losing interest and left it within two months.
Later on I thought freelancing might be a better option. I would not have anything to do with the set curriculum and could have the freedom to implement my own ideas. I started approaching various art colleges and worked as a freelance teaching artist (though in India we do not have any particular term) for almost two years. But I found the same outlook again. Managements of many institutes were interested only in the completion of the standard course of study. Very few of them were interested in my approach towards art education. I wanted to teach the thought processes behind creation of any visual art form where as they were interested only in the output; at the end of the workshop they just wanted their students to come up with an object that they could display. I realized that the very bond between culture and modern art forms was being grossly neglected.
This educational agenda kept bothering me. As a result I stopped working. I started thinking of doing research in the same subject itself and enrolled myself for the PhD program in archaeology and ancient Indian culture. My chosen area of inquiry: the role of study of culture in education and the role of education in forming the culture. I decided to use drawing and sculpture as effective forms to reach the students. I again started approaching schools to conduct various experiments for my research and started gathering basic informative data from schools with which to inform my experiment design.
Many schools allowed me to gather the data but moved a step back when I asked for their time to conduct experiments. At the same time, a few among them were really interested in my work, including one about visualizing time and one I called language beyond words. Not only did they allow me to conduct questionnaire sessions to gather the data, but they were also equally interested in the further experiments. Some of them also asked me to work for them. It again raised a hope in my mind.
Whatever research I have done so far, it has taught me to accept the fact that most mainstream schools in India prefer to go along with popular trends and are not interested in educating their students in a deeper, more meaningful way. But also there are a few schools who want their students to enjoy the journey of learning which will lead them to understand their own existence. I am already connected to one such school, and hoping to get connected with more as I finish my PhD program. All is not lost yet!