Art Teachers Get Unique Experience

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John Bowles, Guest Curator of the Raja Salhesh's Garden exhibition, discusses Dalit art with a cadre of regional art teachers.

Teachers at the Selu Conservancy barn facility listen as Nikki Pynn discusses the techniques and trademarks of Dalit art before the afternoon's exercise..

On November 8, a cadre of more than two dozen southwest Virginia art teachers had a cross-cultural art lesson at Radford University that they could bring back to their classrooms.

The “Sprigs of the Tree” event was an extension of Radford University’s Art Museum and Art Department’s semester long commitment to bringing Dalit art to the area.

The Dalit people of Mithila, India, (formerly known as the “untouchables”) are among the most impoverished and oppressed in the world--yet they produce intricate and frequently mesmerizing art that is currently gaining worldwide attention.

The “Sprigs of the Tree” course first offered a guided tour of a Dalit art exhibit, Raja Salhesh’s Garden in the Covington Art Gallery, led by John Bowles.  Bowles is the Guest Curator and was instrumental in making many of these paintings part of the permanent collection.

In the afternoon, the teachers went to Radford’s Selu Conservancy, a retreat and classroom facility on 380 acres. There, artist Nikki Pynn demonstrated how to create a Dalit-inspired artwork using simple, easily obtainable, and inexpensive materials.

Nikki Pynn demonstrating Dalit techinque.

The teachers got a chance to try the techniques for themselves and in the process gained a new, potent lesson plan. The exercise demonstrates that even with limited materials, the human spirit can still express itself through art, a lesson inherent in Dalit art.

This was the third "Sprigs of the Tree" art education workshop at Selu. The director of Radford University’s Art Museum, Steve Arbury, said these events are very successful for everyone involved.

“Having just seen many original Mithila and Dalit works of art in the morning, the teachers were well primed to try this,” Arbury said.

“The results were commanding, the teachers were enthusiastic, and they want us to continue these workshops on an ongoing basis.”

The public is invited to come see three exhibitions crowning this semester’s focus on Dalit art.

Raja Salhesh's Garden: Contemporary Dalit Art & Ancient Myths of Mithila, India is located in the main gallery in the Covington Center for Visual and Performing Arts through December 3.

A second related exhibit, Martine Le Coz: A French Homage to the Ancient Myths & Contemporary Artists of Mithila, India, is at the Tyler Gallery through November 18.

The Radford University Art Museum has also coordinated a related satellite exhibition titled Mithila Medley: Contemporary Arts from an Ancient Culture in North India, co-curated by Bowles and University of Connecticut Prof. of Art Kathryn Myers. It is now on display at the Floyd Center for the Arts through December 1.

Both Radford galleries are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from noon to 4 pm. More information about the exhibits can be found at Radford University’s Art Museum website.

Information about the exhibition at Floyd Center for the Arts can be found on their website.

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Nov 11, 2022
Sean Kotz