Category Archives: Community art

The ‘Flower Children’ of Mohur Swadhar, Pune

Mohur is a beautiful program run by the organization Swadhar in Pune. Sanjivani Hinge, a truly inspiring individual, has been passionately working for the cause of sex workers and their children, since 20 years. Since my session with Kat Katha last December, it has been even closer to my heart to work with prostitutes. Swadhar has effectively managed to create a safe, loving hostel for children, with dedicated caretakers. The children also have access to formal school education. To provide such opportunity to children who are otherwise disembraced by society, is a truly noble service. They also do a lot of support work for the women, whom I hope to do some Art therapy sessions with, some day soon. Carrying cans of paint, brushes and lots of love in our hearts, Fatema (A dear, talented friend whose beautiful illustrations you can see here) and I walked into their hostel, with only one agenda, to create a space of love with color and smiles.

We chose a wall at the entrance, to offer a heartfelt greeting for all those to visit.

Over the next few hours, children, teachers, mentors, all picked up brushes and transformed the space, and their hearts.  As I have usually experienced before, the teachers were hesitant to begin painting, afraid they would “spoil it”; but were thankfully expressing themselves freely by the end.

And here were the final artworks.. A great day’s work! 🙂


Our flower garden of dreams


Women Hold up Half the Sky 2


Where we live can deeply affect how and what we feel, in profound ways. My professional journey as an Interior Designer has constantly reminded me of this responsibility. How does our inhabited space make us feel? Do we feel energized? inspired? dull? gloomy?

The potential of spaces to remind you of a kind thought, a beautiful image, or a hopeful feeling, can change your moment, your today, your tomorrow and your future.

We took this belief into the Seva Sadan home for Girls in Mumbai; A safe haven to almost 700 girls from villages and towns around Mumbai, many with single or no parents, and desperately limited means. They give home, shelter, safety, education, and a nurturing environment. When we shared our intention about how we wanted to bring some colour and life into their compound, the girls just sprang to life; evoking their dreams of stars, flowers, skies, hearts and love.

Since we were creating a mural in an outdoor space, we decided to use tiled- mosaics. I love murals because they are an ideal means for co-creation. where every participant feels an equally responsible creator.
We had a bright, enthusiastic team! Nick Dalton, an actor/ artist from New York, VIgnesh, Pooja, Sheetal and some more amazing volunteers, and more than 40 joyful little girls!

The Sun carried our core message; “Women hold up half the Sky”. The mural became a medium to speak about ‘Gratitude’, ‘Sharing’ and ‘Loving and serving’. We could talk about entitlement and feeling worthy to ‘own half the sky’.

As you read this, let these pictures and colours fill you with delight as they did us!
We hope you feel WORTHY  today.. because YOU deserve your half the sky! 🙂


Women Hold up Half the Sky 1


Image credit: Internet

Image credit: Internet

Women are half our planet’s human population. And we are responsible for birthing the other half.
Even then, every woman I know (and many men I know) struggle with finding their unique place in their worlds. Being of Indian origin, I notice that even more. As a woman, how do you prioritize your place in society? Your place in family? Your place in relationship? and your place within your self and identity?
My recently preoccupying questions significantly center around this nature of womanhood: Where do your boundaries end and those of your loved ones begin?

Through 2014, I spent a few months in California in quiet re-connection;
It was interesting to allow this time of contemplation to occur in a vastly different cultural paradigm. The strength of personal identity, so prominent in cultural mindsets there, is almost lost in Indian Culture where we often find identity lost in an entrenched sense of community. And of Course, vice-versa is true as well; The solidarity of community can be compromised when singular identity and need is given priority over maintaining social structure.

I needed to allow patient time to slowly unearth inner voices; to explore my feminine aspects and to begin using Art to express secret spaces within. Thus also rediscovering what Art means to me.
The shyly emerging woman within me did not want ’empowerment’ or ‘equality’. She wanted space to be able to understand what embodying masculine and feminine aspects meant. What it meant to me.

I met Rachel and Florinda at a time when I was holding these questions. We realized we all were seeking the same answers.. with different questions. We each carried history from different parts of the world. We wanted to create something beautiful together which could give a voice to our enquiry.


We together began our ‘Beautiful Lady’ Mural. She reflected a sum of our parts. And gave meaning to the parts in the Sum

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Our ‘beautiful lady’ was colored and veiled. she softly held and nurtured a lotus of purity while an angry fire swirled from the lotus’s center. Together, wrath and motherhood swirled into an illuminated path of her destiny. As she walks her path, she plays so many roles. The spirals became all these balls that she always needs to juggle simultaneously, carrying jewels of wisdom and experience at their center.
The ‘Beautiful Lady’ became our voice..of grace, gentleness, nurturing, wrath, fire, anger, insecurity, fear, intuition…

We couldn’t complete the mural. Somehow that was significant it itself. My understanding of the feminine is still unwilling to be put into the container of complete comprehension.
I still ask these questions. Maybe I always will.
What else does the feminine stand for to you? Could this be your question for this moment?

Here I have shared some images from our process of co-creating this joyful piece of Art

Also Sharing a little poem I wrote to a theater-dance piece I did on ‘Identity’. What are the identities we carry as a woman? Who creates these identities? Which would we choose if we are given a choice?
Woman, daughter, giver, mother
One created definitions, performed by another
Take away her masks, who now plays her role?
To conform or to reinvent, when does one see her soul?
Are we our name or title, a shape or a size?
Or are we living one more day in that cloaked disguise.

The brave girls of Dongri!

There is something about the Dongri girls which keeps calling me back. If i reflect what it is, most of all it is how they express so much without words.
This time around, there was a quick acknowledgement of recognition. It felt nice, the slight belonging.. Then they just picked up colors!
Mitali* had been so hesitant to paint last time. She had made me draw outlines and carefully filled them in. This time, she dint even need my outlines! The rest of the evening, she squealed with joy to everyone passing by, proudly showing off her painted flower pots.
Given so many of them are hearing-impaired, are were not bound my my suggestions of simple objects like flowers and butterflies. They created their own canvas with bicycles, fish, fruit and all kinds of fun objects. Maybe it doesnt coherently come together in a theme, but it certainly looks like a lot of fun!
I need to just get out the way in these sessions and let them be. In about an hour of sweltering Mumbai heat, I suggested we wind up. Not a chance! They braved the hot Mumbai sun and painted for almost three hours- They just dint want to put down their brushes!


Planting seeds of a ‘Lovelution’ in Dongri, Colombo and Ahmedabad


This past month was a great reminder and opportunity to see how Art has its own wordless language of connection; to hold space for deep listening and reflection with some lovely kindred souls.
Early in the month, we celebrated a week of “The Lovelution Tour” with Project Creo, at the Dongri Remand home in Mumbai. They offered music, I offered art, and together we wrapped the kids in a few fleeting moments of joy. It is beyond presumptuous for me to think we are making a difference; but I have experienced facilitating art can introduce a few happy moments, and that feels enough!
I have been to the remand home previously working with the boys, but this is the first time I got to engage with the girls; More than 80 girls there, each carrying her unique story of sexual abuse, abandonment, mental or physical ailments and handicaps.

As they flowered their compound wall with color, I could see joy and light in their eyes; girls who have never experienced voice and sound, today gave an expression to their muted feelings.
I have always felt compellingly resonant with adolescent girls, struggling to find their delicate place in this world. Why are intuition, emotion and fragility looked at as a weakness? They make my feminine yearn for acknowledgement, as I see parts of myself in their broken lives.
I am intending to do Art at the Remand home with girls once a month, would love volunteers if interested.

While at a family holiday in Srilanka later in the month, I did a Co Create Art session with a group of young adults in Colombo. It gave me a chance to really connect with local youth and understand their culture. I was so excited to see how they dressed, talked, thought, and related with their traditions, which are visibly so similar to India but also so starkly different.
This also gives me insight into how adults across cultures need spaces to express themselves, and un-knot their imbibed fear around art.

We did a warming up exercise to begin feeling into our surfacing emotions, giving them an expression on paper with colour and texture. The power of silence and deep listening to one another’s expression are an integral part of slowly opening our hearts to trusting each other and ourselves.
This past week, I also led the same session at our three-day Silent ‘Suchita Sangam’ retreat at the Sanitation institute in Ahmedabad. This was also a beautiful assortment of inspiring friends; a monk, an organic farmer, a seeker from Egypt, a lawyer from DC to an engineer from Belgium, among others.

The graceful groups in both places trusted me to lead them into a deeper space.
We individually illustrated the poem, ‘Guest House’ by Rumi. We carefully meditated on what our being as a guest house would look like if we invited our dark thoughts, joys and sorrows as visitors. What does each one of these bring up for us today?

Seema looked at her blank paper tainted by paint smudges with discomfort. She did not want those smudges on her clean sheet. As she learnt to accept them, she drew circles around and highlighted them instead of covering them up. They now suddenly were part of an integral design as she drew around it and transformed her artwork into a celebration of those dots. What does that tell us about the parts of ourselves we look at with discomfort and want to cover up?


Seema’s artwork

It was a powerful experience to delve into our shadow sides which we often resist and try to sweep away under a busy carpet of work and routine. I have really come to appreciate the value of holding trusting, non-judgmental space for each other. It offers safety and freedom to be ourselves for that little while.
Of course, a side perk is also chipping away at personal walls built around the fear of Art. As my new ‘artists’ carried their paintings home to proudly share with loved ones, I felt so grateful for these shared moments of deep intimacy through creativity.

Co-Create Art with Drishti Foundation

The NGO sector in India is a culture of its own. Personally having lived and served at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad over the past four years, I have lived closely with such inspiring people. They have committed their lives to serving community and humanity, often at an expense of tending to their own needs.

A few weeks ago I was invited to do a Co Create Art session with the Drishti Human Resource Center. It was going to be their annual gathering with NGO heads from 13 different organizations, from across the country.
I was excited because I was getting a chance to serve those who are otherwise continuously giving of themselves to others. I particularly wanted this session to be an opportunity for our friends to be received in the same spirit with which they tend to others needs. To offer them a non-judgmental space to share their difficulties, their inspirations, to be heard and welcomed with love.

Over three hours, we sat in silence, happily messed up our hands with pastels, visualized, wrote, thought about our deepest fears, strengths and weaknesses, and expressed them all in form and color.
It was moving. As many expressed in our closing circle, they found even the moments of silence deeply profound; they had not given themselves the time to look within since years. Prema* shared a moving story about how the love she never received while growing up, drives her to passionately offer love to children in her creche. Vipul* shared how gratitude makes him complacent and he always judges himself, feeling he doesn’t give ‘enough’. And Rahul, who is only 22, feels lucky to want to serve and observe fewer needs, unlike this other classmates who are chasing material dreams. But is also in fear of financial stability, which seems to be a concern for many.
They found solidarity for their own fears, answers and resonance to their own questions and experienced acceptance, as each one shared stories through their beautiful art-works. My biggest satisfaction was in the promise given to spend more time tending to their own need for love and care.
They re-discovered the child within, that day. Now they wanted to continue to love and nurture it. Deeply fulfilling.

15 years of Drishti’s committed hard work has today become a family of 13 different NGOs. The NGOs are supported with counselling, advisories and resources; woven into a beautiful network of heart-centered individuals who are deeply passionate about their work and purpose.The organizations have inspiring stories: A school for close to 600 mentally handicapped persons in Ujjain, an aged gentleman full time running an eye-specialty hospital, a toys on wheels facility and crèche, village schools, training and providing professional opportunities to rural youth, farmers rights and so many more.
One day I hope to bring beauty into their spaces. I feel grateful for my work 🙂

* Names have been changed.




Colors of Love: Pyaar Ka Mohalla at Kat-Katha, Delhi

We arrived early, as the sun was slowly rising in the cold Delhi, smoggy sky. We stood outside the brothels with big cans of paint and brushes. The older children had been up all night priming walls and columns in the light of their mobile phones, while clients bustled all night in this ‘market’.
The ‘didi’s’ watched us warily, sipping morning tea in their dingy corridors. Their children were bursting with excitement, even having been up all night. They ran to their mothers; “Aap hamaare saath painting karo!” (Come, paint with us)
They hesitated; “Mujhe nahin aata” (I do not know how to), “Main bigaad dungi” (I will spoil it), “Isme majaa nahin” (I do not enjoy this); watching their children curiously as they have never seen them do before, confidently pick up brushes and paint; “ka…kha…kat- katha likhenge, didi” (We will write ‘Kat-Katha’ on the wall)
By late morning, we almost had to pry brushes from the didi’s hands. There was joy in their smiles as their literal and metaphorical dark passages suddenly lit up with colour.

We were celebrating “Art Week” at Kat Katha, an inspiring Delhi-based non-profit which has been committedly working for sex-workers (whom they affectionately call ‘Didi’s’ (sisters) and their children, on the controversial G.B.Road. in Old Delhi.
Over four days, we transformed their little space of love and values, into a painted garden. As you walk up the steps, you watch a seed budding into a big vibrant rose. The garden grew as has this unique family of love. Over 50 people painted. Children, didi’s and volunteers alike held brushes for the first time in their lives.

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I wondered if art would be considered a luxury for them?
What does her inner world look like for one whose home is a brothel? For one who has surrendered to a life of prostitution?
Small dark lofts lacking hygiene or privacy; several women entertaining ‘clients’ simultaneously; their children starkly aware of these realities which cultural, social structures will go to any length to conceal; women whose own sexuality is not held in respect and traded as a commodity.
I suddenly felt small, what was I doing there and what did I have to offer?

Gratefully, a small voice within reminded me. I was a drop in this ocean and all I needed to attempt to do was share whatever love I had within me, in my biggest capacity.
As I watched children transform their own space with colour, taking pride in every new stroke of their brush, my doubts quietened. I could see self-esteem growing in their eyes.

Together, we created the Dream Wall of Hope.

Each one of us is different; different personalities, backgrounds, circumstances, make us different colours, even so we come together in a blend of harmonies. Life experience layers our pure selves with pain, depicted by the black web covering our pure colours.

Despite that, our hopes and dreams shine forth. As Rumi implied,“The wound is where the light enters you”. Each little circle held our pain and hope. “I want to strengthen my relationship with my mother”, “However much pain I am in, I have learnt to keep a smile on my face”, “I now allow myself to cry and share my worries. Earlier, I used to suppress my emotions”, “in life, I want to fly, but I am afraid of opening my wings”…

On the eve of the fourth day, we celebrated our co-created art. We invited friends, volunteers and well-wishers. We sang and danced and the children proudly shared the meaning and story of each mural. They confidently spoke of themselves as little artists, all ready to now bring colour and liveliness into their little brothel-homes.

My deepest intention and vision of co-create art manifested this week; unfolded before my eyes:
The need each one of has for safe, trusted spaces, for experiencing unconditional love; the healing and gentle pride we experience in the creation of beauty.

This beauty may not be perfect, it may not be art of skill, but it is certainly a labour of love, Our labour of love.

This experience has opened my mind and heart in ways I could never imagine. I feel immense gratitude for all the factors that aligned to make it possible.. I hope my understanding of Art and Healing continues deepening as this path is illuminated with possibilities…

PS- I have been unable to put up pics of the didi’s and kids, to respect their privacy..