Legendary painter Salvador Dali once said, “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”
These words perfectly describe the efforts of V Umapathy, an art teacher from Puducherry, who has been on an endeavour to instill the seeds of creativity in his students through arts and crafts.
Seliamedu — a remote village in rural Puducherry — has been witness to this change brought about by this government school art teacher. Taking inspiration from his work, many students have decided to pursue art as a profession.
Alongside, Umapathy has inspired hundreds in his village and beyond — with his unique art, as well as efforts.
He makes beautiful crafts out of biodegradable materials like bamboo, coconut husks, hay, straw, dried leaves, seeds, roots, branches, vegetable waste, and so on, which are inexpensive and usually discarded. This way, he endorses sustainability in his creations, leaving an everlasting impact, especially on his students.
“This type of artwork is known as ‘recycling art’ or ‘arts from nature’. If we look around, we would find so many useful materials that are usually thrown away. But if given a chance, they can be transformed into wonderful pieces of art,” Umapathy tells The Better India.
So far, he and his students have been able to create over 6,000 art pieces, of which hundreds are on display at his school, Kavignar Veru Vanidassan Government High School.
While growing up, Umapathy was inspired by his father, a government school teacher and expert weaver. “While he used to work in a school, he spent most of his evenings by engaging in weaving. I would observe him and eventually developed an interest for the colours, designs and the art,” recalls the 42-year-old.
“After finishing Class 10, I didn’t have to think twice before pursuing arts. I pursued a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in sculpture and later an MFA (Master of Fine Arts),” he says.
In 2010, he joined the Kavignar Veru Vanidassan Government High School in Seliamedu as their art teacher.
While working at the government school, it took him some time to capture the interest of the students. He experimented with different arts and crafts using a variety of materials. “That’s when a big realisation struck me. Most of the students at my school weren’t able to afford the materials or equipment to create craftwork. I decided to opt for natural materials, which are equally good as non-biodegradable materials and are available for free,” he says.
Switching from non-biodegradable materials to natural materials made all the difference. He says that this move made the students more interested in the craft than before. With his guidance, they were convinced that they could make wonders even out of waste materials.
Eventually, he and his students started making interesting models of animals, birds, human beings, vehicles, show pieces, and more.
“My students started enjoying the craft, and I was the happiest. They even started visiting the school during the weekends. Ever since, we have been participating in competitions across the state and continuously winning prizes,” he gushes.
“I taught them the method, rest is their creativity,” he adds.
Now the school exhibits over 300 pieces of artwork, all created by the students over the years, on its walls.
Social media platforms like Facebook have also helped them in showcasing their artwork, thereby increasing their reach. “People started visiting our school just to see the artwork. I also received several invitations to conduct workshops for students and teachers, both within India as well as abroad,” says Umapathy, who went to Seychelles to conduct a workshop for students and teachers.
“A friend working with the Seychelles education department connected me through Facebook after seeing our work. It was an honour to go to a different country to teach our craft,” he smiles.
Inspiring young minds
Art was beyond a subject for Umapathy, and this reflects in his students as well. Currently, over 20 students have opted for fine arts for their bachelors and are pursuing a career in it, he says.
Besides, the craft has been helping many of his students earn a living and support their families.
Muruga, from Umapathy’s first batch in the school, says, “I was in class 6 when Umapathy sir joined the school. I was never interested in academics, and had no interest in any extracurricular activities. But once we started attending the art class, I realised that it was something I clearly enjoyed. I was impressed by the fact that even waste materials can be turned into something amazing, and it inspired me to pursue arts after school.”
“We used to attend different events while in school and spent time at our art room in the school, even during weekends. Later, when I expressed my interest to pursue arts after college, Umapathy sir guided me. Also he still helps me by referring my name, whenever there is work or a project. There were also times when he helped me financially,” says the 22-year-old, who currently works as a prosthetics designer in Chennai.
Another student N Kavitha, a final year BFA student in Puducherry, says, “I was inspired to take up BFA in painting after realising that I loved the craft. It was Umapathy sir’s encouragement and guidance that helped me throughout. Now I am planning to do a masters.”
Other than conducting workshops and camps for students, Umapathy has also trained several villagers in the craft. “After taking permission from the education department and in collaboration with the Indian Bank, I was able to train a few villagers. Post-training, they were all able to start making their own craft work,” says Umapathy.
He has also trained many in the district of Salem, Villupuram and Kodaikanal. “I was happy to know that a few among them have started small-scale units of their own in their villages,” he says.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)