me, us – reflecting on self, community & country

Visual Arts - Kakkakayankulam, August 2017

Attendance: 54 from Grades 6-11, in two groups (although it was intended to be for 30 students from Grades 6-8!)

Learning goals: Introspection on the self, mapping, collaborating/working with others, creative imagining, introspection on the important elements of being from Sri Lanka

Activity/ies: Day 1 – Identity portrait, road to school mapping.

Day 2 – new national flag, collaborative map,

Interesting projects: The maps, that involve many people or components coming together, are always a hit. Compiling it all together and sticking it up on the wall yields incredible reactions every time.


Workshop feedback: Our feedback forms suggested that the kids enjoyed the large mapping exercises and we felt bad that some of the kids couldn’t partake in those activities due to time constraints.

Continuing challenges: Kids continue to find it difficult to think very far out of the box, and any prompts/examples usually result in them reproducing what was shown, also a lot of copying around the tables.


We’d barely slept, and arrived to the news that the workshop would be pushed back an hour, so we were all in a rather hazy place that morning. What started off with a seemingly normal amount of children – 13 to each room on an average, suddenly multiplied and we were faced with groups larger than we’d ever worked with before. This combined with the massive wind through our open classroom kept us on our toes, though at the cost of reflective feedback time that we would have enjoyed.

Irfadha and I were on the visual arts end, running 1.5 hour sessions of two activities each, feedback time included. Or so we thought.

We began with the identity portrait, which while sounding simple enough proves difficult for the kids we’ve worked with and we saw the same happening in KK. Despite Irfadfha’s instructions not to actually draw yourself but to incorporate little things about your interests and personalities, we saw several pictures of their own faces. After some pointers, and a few took to the concept, there was unfortunately a lot of copying.

We’re always wondering how to avoid this – do we isolate kids when they sit, what kind of examples we show them – and we’re still trying to find a balance that allows them to be confident but also gives them some guidance.

The road to school mapping exercise, inspired by Firi’s amazing art, was at the close of one session, by the time the crowd had trickled in. We were faced with doing two rounds, solely to control the numbers, or just doing one mega-collaboration. We went with the latter, and had nearly 30 kids around on [I think] A1-sized paper. A chalk to each one, they dove in. First drawing their home at the outer edge of the paper and working inward.

What we had at the end was a web of winding roads and lakes. An older student made the observation that since their village is so small – one main road, one lake – each kid had drawn the same thing and therefore the village had sort-of multiplied in the larger drawing. This was interesting for us – the last time we did this, at St. John’s, aside from a few landmarks closer to the school we saw a diversity in the urban environment drawn, as the kids travelled there from several places. This exercise echoed the sight of seeing kids walk to school from houses across and down the road, and run home after school to quickly freshen up before our afternoon sessions.

We were better rested on day 2, and armed to take on a group of the size we had the previous day. We began with the activity of redesigning the national flag. Our instructions include forgetting the existing flag – its shape, its colours, the elements included. Nevertheless, we noticed how many stuck with the layout of two coloured stripes on the left side and a solid border running around the whole flag.

We ran this in two sessions, first as an individual activity and then as a group activity because we ran out of time.

Individual: We didn’t have much time for feedback for this round, and were able to have about 5 kids talk about their work. One had drawn an interesting pattern of leaves and petals almost, showing what she said was ‘cleanliness’. Two had drawn their families on the flag, reinforcing a pattern of linking the importance of family in terms of country.

Group: We thankfully had time for feedback on this round and a recurring theme was religion as a symbol of both diversity and unity.

We had one flag with the layout of the existing flag, but with the lion and bo leaves replaced with the star and crescent, with the kids elevating their Muslim community to national importance.

A second group drew the people of the four faiths with the text ‘We will give our lives for our country’ over the top and the next group presented the symbols of all four faiths with an interesting design next to it. The upturned bo leaf shape of a temple, we asked him why that particular shape and learned something that was new to all of us. He explained that this shape can be seen in each one of the 4 religious places – church, dagaba, kovil, mosque.

The recurrent theme of religion, we noticed, was because kids had confused the different religions with the different ethnicities. The older kids would correct the younger ones as they explained it to us – the dharmachakra did not represent the Sinhalese and the Om did not represent Tamils but Buddhism and Hinduism. Trying to explain these differences to the younger ones, we hope, went well, and some were able to understand the distinctinctions.

The patchwork map is one of my favourite activities to do with the kids, being a map nerd. We drew it out in the morning, thrice as large as the one we’ve done with the kids at St. John’s, with many of the kids standing around and eyeing our progress. We then split that into nine pieces each given to groups of four. They were told it was a map, which sections were land and sea, and that they were to fill up their sections with the features of the country. Homes, schools, roads, trees, religious places and more.

We noticed the kids immediately filling in the sea with blue, and after prompting included features of the sea- fish, boats, fishermen – instead of blue blocks. The land areas were more difficult – they would fixate on one row of trees, or one building, and it took some coaxing from Irfadha to get them to fill up the sections with everything they saw in their world, and not just what we told them. One kids did add the A9 running down his group’s portion, which was a unique touch.



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