Chennai: Clutching a paint brush which is strapped to his palm with a rubber band, P Balachandran paints colourful pictures of various birds on his canvas. The 63-year-old may have lost a finger to leprosy but he found solace in art. The creative journey that began through the Bindu Arts School in Chengalpet has helped him lead a life of dignity ever since.
“Drawing has become my passion. Earlier, I used to feel depressed thinking about my illness. But painting helps me forget all my worries,” says Balachandran, who is among 18 other students displaying their artwork at an exhibition organized by the school at DakshinaChitra.
This year’s paintings capture a variety of themes in bright colours. From animals to birds, flowers to fishes, the exhibition has around 37 framed canvasses. The initiative hopes to empower many leprosy patients by making them financially independent.
“There is an inner beauty in poor people that we don’t recognize. Unlike popular perception, they make beautiful paintings. Their work does not reflect any depression or frustration despite the difficult circumstances they’ve been through,” says Austrian artist Werner Dornik, who founded the school with Padma Venkataraman in 2005.
When Dornik first visited India in 1977, he was very disturbed by the plight of the leprosy patients in Varanasi. Initially, he raised money for their treatment. But the idea to set up the school developed after the government began offering free treatment for the illness.
“I didn’t want the concept to be perceived as charity where I am seen as the ‘good man’ and the students had to be ‘thankful’. The idea was to make them independent so that they didn’t beg,” says Dornik, who showcases their work at exhibitions across India and Europe.
The school has also been instrumental in honing their skills by helping them develop their own personal styles. “We give them the freedom to paint what they like. Sometimes we have group interactions where we discuss what is missing and what can be changed,” says Dornik, who also curates the exhibition.
Apart from guest lectures and workshops, students are also taken on week-long trips to give them exposure. “The school has become like my family. We wouldn’t have got an opportunity to visit so many places if we were living in our own homes,” says Godavari, who looks forward to their trip to Shantiniketan in February.
The exhibition is at the Kadambari Gallery, DakshinaChitra until February 3. The paintings are priced at Rs. 4,500 and Rs. 9,500. “The proceeds from the sale help in paying the monthly stipend for the students and in purchasing art supplies for the school. In fact, since 2008, the school has been running purely on the income from these exhibitions and not on donations,” says Dornik.