How do you see your outer self? How do you feel about it on the inside? These are the kinds of questions people are told to ask themselves in an adult art class, and yes, they often end up drawing their own genitalia, or someone else’s body.
But it’s not about the perfect line or form. The classes aim to help people tell their life stories, connect with their body, and perhaps discover some latent talent along the way.
Through the various phases of lockdown, these classes have moved online, allowing people to participate in greater privacy. And in anxious times, they’ve proved to be refreshing and therapeutic.
Sessions available include one-on-one workshops such Connect, by Goa-based artist Aru Bose, group workshops such as Art As (Expressive) Play by Sheena Dabolkar and figure-drawing sessions such as the ones conducted online by tattoo artist Shreya Josh.
DRAW WHAT YOU LIKE
Bose, 31, started her six-week art and expression course via Zoom, to explore with participants the question posed at the start of the story, about the outer self, and how people feel on the inside.
In one exercise in the course, she asks participants to sit in front of a mirror, make faces and observe themselves. “For many, it was the first time they were seeing themselves that way, with real eye-contact,” she says. The participant must say out loud five things they just noticed about themselves. With no further conversation, she instructs them to draw what they saw in the mirror, highlighting five things they liked.
“The intention behind the exercise is to draw focus on things we admire and appreciate. Initially it is daunting, the task of naming five qualities, but the participants feel a sense of joy and accomplishment after they complete that task,” she says.
In subsequent classes, Bose helps each participant map their life experiences by asking questions and encouraging them to sketch and journal. Then she gets them to write an erotic poem about themselves, and draw comics illustrating their silliest, most absurd and weirdest thoughts.
In the final session, she guides them through the process of creating a character sketch of their genitals. The sketch must address questions such as, what are its superpowers, what does it want, what are its defining characteristics.
“In six hours, we have created at least five different pieces of work,” says Bose, “and had lots of interesting conversations.”
Radhika Talsania, 28, a fitness trainer in Mumbai, says Connect was her first art class since school. “I frequently doodle and trace, but I hadn’t created anything original in years,” she says. She signed up for Connect because she couldn’t find by herself the language to express herself. But the fourth session, she was less critical of herself, inside and out, and not so terrified of what people would think of her art. “I felt less rigid and confined,” she says. “As a fitness trainer, I consider it part of my job to make people accept their bodies first and then try and work on levelling up on fitness. The class with Aru revolved around the same idea and it sort of made me believe in my own thoughts about beauty a little more.”
Shreya Josh, a handpoke tattoo artist in Delhi, decided to do some figure modelling over Zoom when her business took a hit with the lockdown. “I thought it was a good way to raise funds and experiment,” she says.
She organised her first-pay-as-you-like semi-nude figure-drawing fundraising weekend in Delhi, in April. She put out posts advertising six sessions (women were generally welcome, men were only admitted if she knew them). Fifty people took part. Some were artists, some not. Some donated Rs 5,000, some Rs 100. That weekend, she raised Rs 41,000 for sex workers in Karnataka.
She did another fundraiser a few weeks later on her birthday, and raised Rs 25,000 for children in shelters. Since then, she has done a few more sessions, and also drafted her boyfriend. For each 40-minute session, she does a series of pre-conceived poses in her underwear. “All participants have to have their video cameras on too,” she says.
Ishaan Bharat, 30, a visual artist, used the sessions to get over his own artistic block too.
“In an actual figure-drawing session, artists have the mobility to study light, its source and path. In digital translation, the image is already present in two dimensions. In a way, that makes it easier, but you also get a flatter image to work with. In a live session, each artist also gets to draw a different angle of the model’s pose, a liberty you cannot take while broadcasting live over Zoom. I like how Shreya structured the class. It encourages you to capture the body form in your own way,” he says. “I really got into the final pose and found myself working on it even after the session ended.”
At the end of each session, Josh asks if participants feel like sharing their drawings. “For me, doing this at this time was about taking ownership of my body, which I am very comfortable with,” Josh says.
Sheena Dabholkar, 34, a writer who runs the online art, design and lifestyle magazine Lover, says none of her sketches were great art, but even so it surprised her how much more detail she was adding as the session progressed.
Dabholkar now runs monthly art sessions too, through her wellness project called Mindful and Body. The Art as (Expressive) Play sessions are meant to encourage non-artists to join in for a guided art journaling session. Each session has a special prompt – draw with your left hand, or draw with your eyes closed, draw an object after seeing it only once.
“One of the aspects I really wanted to bring in was play as a form of healing. You can only play when you’re feeling free and safe,” she says.