Sun | Jan 17, 2021

Self-reliance through the arts

Published:Sunday | January 5, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Some of the artwork made from recycled materials by students of the HEART Trust/NTA Adult Education Division at East Street, downtown Kingston.
Freeha Tanaka, Japan International Cooperation Agency volunteer (right), shows how pieces of driftwood would be repurposed to make artwork as Jennifer McKay, programme officer, HEART Trust/ NTA, looks on.
Freeha Tanaka, Japan International Cooperation Agency volunteer, observes as her students at HEART Trust/ NTA Adult Education Division at East Street make artwork from recycled materials.
‘Muffi’ shows off the footwear she created from beads, which she learnt from Freeha Tanaka, JICA volunteer at HEART Trust/NTA. Muffi sells these and other items of jewellery and accessories in downtown Kingston.
Amitabh Sharma
Freeha Tanaka shows a mixed-media artwork from recycled materials by students of Adult Education Centre HEART Trust/NTA.
A jewellery box made with newspaper by a student of HEART Trust/ NTA.

“Art is all about patience, and you need to enjoy what you are doing,” said Freeha Tanaka as she helped one of her students to meticulously twist a newspaper page to make a papier-mâché box. On their desks was an assortment of materials – plastic bottles, glue, paints, twigs, egg trays. Looking beyond the face value of the raw materials, they form the genesis of great art.

Rustic, yet creative, Tanaka’s students were putting their creative touches on perceivable trash.

One would imagine that this was a group of kindergarten children having fun – Tanaka’s students are all adults seeking a change in life.

There were no peals of laughter or jumping with joy, but the ladies in the classroom at the Adult Education Division of HEART Trust/NTA at East Street in downtown Kingston were concentrating hard to make repurposed art.

To get them into this mode, letting go of inhibitions and pre-conceived notions are the first steps.

“I just let them have fun,” Tanaka said. “This way, they get inspired and create.”

Tanaka, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer at HEART Trust/NTA, worked with people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in Japan, engaged in art therapy to assist them (people with ID) to create artwork and to help to market the artworks.

She wants to replicate some of the models from back home to use art as an avenue to earn an income.

According to her, it is doable. the key is to think outside of the box, as she teaches the age-old Japanese traditions – minimalism and simplicity.

“I encourage the students to begin by simply folding paper,” she said. ‘Simply’ is relative. The simple folds of paper creates beautiful origami.

The simple things are slowly evolving to complex yet beautiful creations, which Tanaka says have the potential to create viable income opportunities for her students.

Behaviour change

These interactions are also fostering behaviour and social change.

“Miss Tanaka’s classes are helping the students not only to learn art, but also helping them to develop social skills and positivity,” said Jennifer McKay, programme officer at HEART Trust/NTA. “They are mostly single mothers who are hustling and looking after their children. Through the arts, they are able to express themselves in creative ways.

“The ultimate goal,” McKay said, “is to take these skill sets and turn them into a profession.”

‘Muffi’, one of the students, stepped forward, took off her shoe, and showed her ‘designer footwear’ – a strap that she had created out of beads.

She has learnt to make jewellery and accessories – earrings, necklaces, and now the footwear – which she sells in downtown Kingston.

Tanaka is transfering her experience in Japan to benefit students in Jamaica.

She has worked as an art therapist, helped people with intellectual disabilities to make jewellery and accessories, worked to build vegetable gardens in a residential facility in Tokyo, and helped to sell the produce. She has volunteered with children of expatriates in Japan, assisting them to acclimatise to the culture and the country.

In Jamaica, she is mandated to teach basic art skills, create functional and decorative art, and work with recycled and repurposed materials to make art and craft items.

“The use of recycled material makes it economical to source, and it is environmentally friendly,” McKay said.

Tanaka is using art as a tool not only to help students to appreciate creativity in everything around them, but also to use these creative thought processes for conflict resolution and to heal emotional scars.

“I have seen the changes,” she said. “They have overcome their inhibitions, learnt teamwork, and also learnt to innovate.”

Her objective is to teach useful and sustainable art and to earn money from selling that art.

“Just ask,” Tanaka said, showing a mix media piece made from driftwood and acrylic. “And we will find the solution.”

A Japanese proverb sums it up: the instruction shows the way and the method. The vision is the work of one who has wished to see.