A Breath Of Fresh Air
London-based ‘eco-artivist’ Francesca Busca tells us how the young ones from India and the United Kingdom did their bit for an international art exhibition on air pollution. Here’s her account on this environmentARTistic collaboration.
When the London International Gallery of Children’s Art (LIGCA) approached me in April 2018 to ask me to collaborate with them and Nirmal Bhartia School (NiBS) in New Delhi on a project on air pollution, I was very happy. I had already seen a couple of exhibitions of children’s art organized by LIGCA (one of which involved my children), and I knew they were doing brilliant work. And this project in particular fit in perfectly with my aims as an eco-activist (someone who brings about an effective change in the
environment through art).
Seeds (of thought) for kids
I had for long been working towards sowing seeds of change with our most precious assets (our children) to bring about change in the environment. Children today are having to suffer because many parents squandered away their future with their (our) disposable ways of living. Spreading awareness of the problem with the future generation, providing them with the means to protest and break through our bad habits and – hopefully – re-educate us all, while still loving us unconditionally has always been at the top of my mind.
Children are so much more open-minded, clear-headed and clean-hearted, forgiving and resourceful than adults! But how do you tell children that the people they trust the most – and to whom they entrust their lives – are killing their planet, without breaking their heart? We were indeed in for some interesting, stimulating work, while facing the challenge of having to tread carefully between brutal truth and imperative hope.
A tale of two cities
So, while Nirmal Bhartia was gearing up for this massive project in New Delhi, we started recruiting in London. The Village School (TVS, primary) and UCL Academy (secondary) promptly jumped on-board, and eagerly participated in a few art sessions with TVS’ art teacher Susie Craven and myself between September-November 2018. The pupils were encouraged to find solutions to reduce air pollution and use the project as a source of discussion and exploration of ideas, with opportunities to Skype pupils in India and for other schools in London to collaborate as well.
It was interesting to see how the primary school children were completely spontaneous about and enthralled by the experience, especially when it came to decorating pollution masks and making earrings with pollution dust.
With the secondary school students, we were entering uncharted territory: we knew we were dealing with an age group wherein students were entering a particular stage of self-consciousness, with tremendous potential yet a somewhat confused, overly-controlled mindset. It was heart-warming to see how they managed to overcome the latter and get more and more involved with each session. By the last one, they were on fire! The outcomes were tremendous.
A selection of the children’s artwork was then sent to NiBS, for a first joint exhibition at the Sanskriti Kendra, in Delhi, in November/December 2018. Sarika and Sarita from NiBS were keeping us up to speed; we were very impressed by their organisation skills, as there were many activities involved: performances, installations, conceptual work, workshops and visual art, which we then received in February 2019, along with the original artwork from London.
The results were incredible: whilst we deeply enjoyed spotting the details which identified the different culture from which the artwork originated (whether a different skyline or an item of clothing) it was quite astonishing to see how similar the drawings and paintings were… making it shockingly clear that we were indeed facing a global threat. No matter the difference in our climate, food habits, dwellings, we were all contributing to – and suffering from – the same plague of air pollution.
This is why, when working on the layout for the London exhibition, we started from the idea of mixing the drawings from the two countries: we wanted the viewers to come to the same conclusion, like it hit us, and as immediately and powerfully as only art can convey. We spent a considerable amount of time to curate the exhibition in London, which took place at the Nehru Centre in Mayfair at the end of March 2019.
Personally, I can say that this exhibition was one where I felt more pressure than I have ever felt before. I guess I felt an underlying responsibility not only as an artist but also as a human being and as a mother, to make things right – and give our children the best shot possible to make their voices heard loud and clear.
We had an incredible turnout for the private view and had a surprising number of pledge cards filled out – mainly by adults. But there was more to it: throughout the week of the exhibition, we had workshops at the venue with Halcyon International (secondary) and SIAL (an English/Italian bilingual and bi-curricular primary and secondary school). The children seemed to connect with the artwork they saw, and I liked the feeling of complicity I felt most of them had with their artist peers. Some of them were incredible at spotting those from India! They liked the challenge and rose up to it.
After an exploration of the artworks, we had a group discussion on the issue, and we asked the children to be artivists for the day through some activities which involved conceptual, visual and performance work. Working in groups (Air, Creatures, Rocks & Roots) we asked them to come up with a sentence each on the issue made up of a word per student, to write their word on pollution mask each, wear them and have their peers put them in the right order to recreate their sentence. We then asked them to write their thoughts, wishes or statements on a label, drawing from the artwork and information around them. We then joined these activities in a group performance to recreate the ecosystem while the students were wearing their sentences on masks, recreating the vibrations of nature through OM.
I only saw it fitting to draw from Sanskrit for this activity, being the oldest Indo-European language and the only spiritual one, attributing the three qualities of nature to sounds: Air representing and pronouncing “A” (Sattva=being) Creatures “U” (Rajas=activity) and R&R “M” (Tamas=inertia), humming a rhythm (A-U-M-UA) and/or chanting “Air” and “Pollution” whilst adding swaying and active movements appropriately (or none at all, as in the case of Rocks& Roots). Finally, it ended with them announcing their thoughts in turn and assertively demanding a future in unison. It was incredible to see how both primary and secondary students managed to digest it all with only 10 minutes of preparation. How what seemed like pure chaos until the last minute fell all into place at the moment of filming, and how enthusiastic they all were!
High up in the air
Overall it was a tremendously enriching experience, which I will treasure dearly for the rest of my life. The teamwork was fantastic, both with NiBS and with LIGCA. I got to work very closely with them and for long periods and I feel fortunate to have met them, as not only I passionately believe in their mission, but I am also extremely grateful for their hard work and efforts. And trust me: it was a lot of work, but I enjoyed every minute of it – and I eagerly look forward to further collaborations.
My favourite part was working with children. Still free from indoctrination, they are little Voltaires who look at the world as it should be, and tell us off sincerely and mercilessly (often with an attitude) for being such tired creatures, compromised by old and inadequate social standards and policies. I hope they will be stronger than us and will keep believing that a man’s worth is not in what he has, but in what he does. I also hope they will find a way to forgive us.
On a positive note, I know we all share the same belief that this is only the beginning: we are looking forward to bringing this project into as many schools as possible.
In fact, if anyone is interested, please do contact Paola at LIGCA on firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be thrilled to keep it going…the children have SO much to say. We want everyone to hear it, NOW – until, hopefully, they will need to shout no more…because we finally listened!”
(About the author: Francesca Busca likes to define herself as an EnvironmentARTist (or eco-artivist). Torn between optimism and surrender, she is haunted by the idea of mankind’s imminent self-destruction. Yet, she believes in a future for humanity of resourceful innovation through re-thinking, re-purposing and reducing.
This shows particularly in her mosaics, mixed media and installations, whic
She has participated in over 60 art exhibitions internationally in the last 2 years alone. She has received over 30 awards and appeared on a dozen publications. She has recently launched the Payment in Kind(ness) initiative, whereby she accepts eco-friendly gestures (LiThs = “Little Things”) as payment in kind toward her artwork. Ironically, her Little Things exhibition was censored within the first week of opening, as it was found to be “too controversial” by some of the estate residents.
She is currently working on the first “Art for Trash” project of what she likes to call her “ArtWORKivism” initiative. The aim is to bring environmental artivism inside business offices, and to stimulate ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS and RESPONSIBILITY in the professional sphere, spreading the belief that they are pervasive and necessary in all aspects of our lives. It involves turning office daily rubbish into artwork for their office – a small example of a circular economy.)