Art You Can Feel: Textile Collages

 A student sits on the red and yellow patterned mat, leaning over her board. She is adding orange circles to her board, next to a ring of purple circles. 

A student sits on the red and yellow patterned mat, leaning over her board. She is adding orange circles to her board, next to a ring of purple circles. 

Our second Not Just Art workshop was held as part of the Ashayasiddhi camp, held 29 March - 12 April at the Government High School for Blind Girls in Malakpet, Hyderabad. Eleven senior girls participated in this school year-end camp, designed to impart essential life skills needed as they start to transition out of school.

The NJA workshop came in the middle of a week of sessions on computers, life skills, mobility/orientation, communication, and soft skills. Since the girls had been involved deep in informational sessions, we decided to do something fun and hands-on. We prepared a textile collage workshop using something near and dear to them: fabric from old scarves, just like the ones they wore. The familiar textures of each scarf (or "chunni" in Telugu) allowed them to work confidently in this new activity.

The girls sat in a circle in the school's computer room, chatting excitedly. We gave them each round boards prepared with hot glue outlines of concentric circles. They also had trays with a small amount of glue and a sponge brush. The girls then got to choose their colors of fabric; pink, red, and blue were the most desired. We placed 3-4 piles of differently colored chunni circles, roughly 3" in diameter, in each tray. Once the girls were set up and oriented on the materials at their disposal, NJA coordinator Priya Charry led them through the process of creating an abstract flower, using the chunni circles as flower petals.

 Three girls sit on a yellow and purple patterned mat, working on their boards. The NJA instructor kneels in front of the girl on the far right, guiding her hand toward her tray.

Three girls sit on a yellow and purple patterned mat, working on their boards. The NJA instructor kneels in front of the girl on the far right, guiding her hand toward her tray.

They started by applying a small dab of glue to the board, along the largest of the raised glue outlines. They chose a colored "petal" and placed it on the glue spot. They repeated this going all the way around the circle. After working their way around, they moved on to the next smallest circle, and then the next, finishing with one color in the middle. The girls were free to choose which colors they wanted and where to place them, or choose if they wanted to follow the outlines at all. 

 Six girls sit on a red and yellow patterned mat, assessing their nearly-finished artwork.

Six girls sit on a red and yellow patterned mat, assessing their nearly-finished artwork.

The results were lovely - bright color bursts, expanding out of the boards. Some of the finished pieces looked like traditional flowers, while others were more intuitive and freeform. Regardless, once the glue dried the girls shared with their friends, gently feeling each board to get a sense of the colors and textures used. It was fun to experience each other's unique work: fingers tracing the circles, exploring the overlap between different fabrics, and admiring the patterns of rough and smooth textures. They commented on each other's use of colors and method of applying the fabric - similar to any art critique one might observe at a formal art program.

The girls reflected on the feeling of the different chunni colors and how they could tell apart each color based on its tactile properties. These additional details gave the process a new dimension that they could use to customize their art experience. They discussed how easy it would be to make similar collages at home, using their mothers'/sisters' old discarded chunnis or any other unwanted cloth. And when asked if they would like to try more non-traditional art forms, their answer was a resounding "yes"!

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this workshop is that the girls had a high degree of independence in this activity. With just a little bit of orientation and a helping hand here and there, the girls created a beautiful garden of colors and textures. One girl commented, "If someone helps us, we can do anything in life." Another agreed, adding that she would like to learn more about art and teach it to others. We wholeheartedly support these girls in their blossoming artistic pursuits. With their unending creativity and eagerness to learn new skills, we believe these girls can overcome any barrier in their way. 

 All eleven girls stand in a row in the school courtyard, holding their artwork in front of their chests and smiling.

All eleven girls stand in a row in the school courtyard, holding their artwork in front of their chests and smiling.