Colours that heal the soul
The Hindu BURST OF CREATIVITY: Leprosy patients create works of art
Leprosy patients take to art to earn a living and rebuild their lives
Zeal is the constant accompaniment of Werner Dornik. The determination remains as rock solid as when in 2000, he had first set out with a mission to help leprosy patients find a dignified life.
Eleven years later, Bindu-Art-School, a quaint little structure, stands tall in Bharatapuram, Chennai, transforming the lives of its inhabitants, considered pariahs by many.
The hands which had got used to only receive now rejoice in giving. “They just begged to live and that's all they could do because they have been shunned by the society. So now, when they make money by selling their paintings, they send it to their family, their grandchildren. They take so much pride in that,” says Dornik, the Austrian artist and philanthropist, who led them onto this path.
His unique initiative, Bindu-Art-School set up in 2005, takes the route of creativity to heal the souls that have been ravaged by society. It has empowered them by giving them the tool of paintbrush. Soaking themselves in the world of colours, they have gradually reconstructed their lives where no traces can be found of their past experiences. “The colours are bright, the forms and lines, dynamic. I have always been surprised to see how they put forth a happy imagery. Sometimes, I think, they paint things that they have longed for in real life but didn't get. Families and nature are some of their favourite themes,” says Werner, who in this unique venture is helped by social activist Padma Venkataraman. The students, he points out insist on holding the paintbrush between their fingers, even though severely damaged by the disease.
“Initially we tried with tying a bandage around their wrists and sticking the brush in there but they didn't like it.”
Though Padma and Werner have strived to preserve their innocence and style in their art, for guidance they have regularly flown in artists from Vienna training them in various techniques and providing valuable tips like mixing of colours. Dornik feels, their art has bloomed from a host of such positive experiences.
To date, they have had around 15 exhibitions in India and 15 in Europe and America. A few of them travelled to Vienna with an exhibition. “Earlier nobody wanted to even see them and now they almost feel like stars going for these exhibitions because there everybody treats them with awe. They are invited to speak on issues like positivity and healing.”
The other amazing fact is that the entire school runs largely from the money made by the sale of their paintings.
Not only do they paint together but also the old students donate a part of their earnings to a younger ones just starting out. So, every old student gives stipend to a new one. So, there are families who have fought in the past but today they are helping out each other in this way,” he reveals.
(Bindu-Art-School is currently exhibiting its works at the ongoing India Art Fair and also at the Art Gallery, Austrian Cultural Forum, Chanakya Puri. Werner has also made a film on the school, which will be shown at the Austrian Culture Forum on February 3.)