At Diana's Art Room in Mumbai, every student is implored to paint like no one is watching

Diana Shatish is a passionate educator with 20 years of experience in art education at the elementary and middle school level
Diana Shatish was awarded the third place at a national competition held by the Cultural Ministry of India | Pic: Sourced
Diana Shatish was awarded the third place at a national competition held by the Cultural Ministry of India | Pic: Sourced

Diana Shatish is more than proud to talk about her students and the journey she has undertaken with art in the 20 years of her career. Starting her teaching career in art as a teenager, Diana, the founder of Diana’s Art Room, Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu has enriched over 400 kids under her tutelage through art. 
Coming from a family of teachers, Diana says she was “born into” art and teaching, and she taught at the American International School in Tharamani, Chennai for over a decade before starting her art studio Diana’s Art Room, a place for non-judgmental art, about 20 years ago. “My studio is a place where children can express their emotions and feelings and have the freedom to explore art, no one is restricted here,” said the folk artist who specialises in Cheriyal art and also has been teaching at KC High International School, Chennai.

For the uninitiated, Cheriyal art is a form of artwork that originated in Andhra Pradesh. The canvas is made with a paste of tamarind seed that is boiled and then spread on a kadhi cloth, after which, it is sundried. The sundried kadhi cloth is then burnished (polished by rubbing) traditionally with sea shells and covered with chalk powder paste to smoothen the base. The paints are extracted naturally from stones and other natural materials (such as turmeric for yellow, sea shell for white, kerosene lamp ash for black and grey, colours like red and blue are extracted from stones) and mixed with tamarind tree gum and mixed in a mud pot. The paintbrush is usually made with animal hair.

What is the artist’s inspiration? Establishing herself in Cheriyal art, which specialises in village sceneries and depicts the simple way of life showing the daily routine of a person, Diana is also inspired by the simplicity of life and people. “I like to get my inspiration from people and the sceneries around me,” she adds. “My children (students) are my inspiration and they keep me on my toes. They make me think and the questions they ask educate me in several ways,” says the art teacher who is also an art therapist. "Twenty years of teaching has made me realise that I have a lot to learn from the kids," adds the teacher, who is also still a learner.

Make art, any art
We all know art, drawing, painting and other forms of creativity can be used as stress relievers for most people who try them and Diana agrees, but she also has concerns about how art is supposed to heal and help her students, “Art is a form of freedom and expression and most parents who enroll their kids in art classes expect masterpieces and professional work right from the start. I always tell the parents that they cannot produce a masterpiece after every 40-minute class,” adds the art therapist. She also added that art therapy is about de-stressing, unwinding and having the liberty to explore oneself. 

Art education
Art can be a hobby, an interest and even a passion, but what is art education?
Art education is educating children with art. The teacher, who inspires students to explore themselves through art, says, “I work with special children as well and it is truly unique for me. Art for most people is just a hobby, but it is so much more than that.” One of her students Ramya (name changed) used to poke her ears with a pencil. But just a few months under Diana's guidance, she is now able to paint. “It is amazing how far she has come. She can now mix colours with perfect consistency and shade for painting. She has improved her social skills and her motor skills have also improved drastically,” adds the proud teacher. 

Chennai to Mumbai
In the beginning of November, Diana and 15 of her students had the wonderful opportunity to display their artwork at the historic Taj Hotel in the city of Mumbai. Art Revolution, an art exhibition, young artists who were 10 to 16 years old flew from Chennai to Mumbai for the first time with their artwork which included abstract, contemporary, folk art, ceramic installation, math theory on the marine ecosystem and various other themes. “This was an amazing opportunity for us. Several art curators, art dealers and personalities attended the exhibition and my children were fearless and confident,” said the contented art educator.

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