Published: 01st November 2017
Away from classrooms and into the mind, this artist explains her love for colour, freedom and the need to 'unschool'
To unschool is to accept and dive into education sans a classroom, where the learner is the teacher and the methods used are more personal and interactive
When you see a 24-year-old using empty walls as a canvas for street art, often highlighting unconventional, social issues often ignored, one thing stands out. No, it’s not the fact that the artist is a woman, but the fact that she is burqa-clad. The coloured walls Farheen Khan leaves behind speak of a battle that is raging, one that breaks everything society has schooled us to think. Farheen, an Art enthusiast from Nagpur, always had her heart set on Art, but living in a society that elevates the likes of Engineering and Science, she was forced to choose otherwise. But that was until she stumbled upon the concept of unschooling.
Unschooling is an unconventional method where the learner is the teacher and takes the initiative to learn what they really want. One can unlearn through internships and workshops that operate outside a classroom. When Art and Design finally did become an option for her, she discovered the very limited scope of such subjects within the Indian education system. "Our system has been designed to produce clerks and peons," she laments as she speaks of the country's fever for Engineering, Medicine and Law.
This artist is critical of the rigidity with which the education system, often through the archaic ideologies ingrained in teachers and the institution as a whole, deprives children of basic knowledge. If you need to be a functioning human being you need to be equipped with human rights. Many students are deprived of this education and are taught what is deemed necessary, instead of being given the freedom to choose, she says. “Our main system is a disaster. I did not want to build my career on something that is conventional and so limited,” says the woman itching to break free and take others with her.
Unmyth and Unwind: Farheen can't wrap her head around the idea that women in burqa are restricted from freedom or expression of any sort
Popularly known as Unschooled Artist on social media, Farheen urges the world to love, laugh and be compassionate without judgement through her art that also attempts to make the viewer reflect. While she speaks to young Muslim girls who also face religion-related stereotypes, she is drawn in by the stories they have to tell, while they are inspired and encouraged to promote her thought. Her street art usually centres around social issues created in a not-so-typical manner. To help us understand, she tells us how she used a dying plant, deprived of water, to create awareness about water wastage.
As expected, her social media handle draws a lot of curiosity, she says. However, nothing good ever comes without criticism and one of the things people comment on is her independence to pursue her art while wearing a burqa. A bundle of love and kind words, she is gentle with her dismissal of this archaic stereotype. She recalls how people, especially young girls, have asked her why she does all this while wearing a burqa. "People are under the misconception that the burqa curbs what you want to do. If I can contribute to their awareness, then that's great," says Farheen, who admits that her confidence has tripled since she unschooled herself.
Painted problems: Farheen's street heart is unconventional and centres around social issues, but expressed differently
"Our system is not meant for Indian kids. It should focus on the economic classes and teach them accordingly. Many kids from the lower class have to go home from school and work, so teach them in such a way that what they learn contributes to their development,” says Farheen, who is thankful to her Psychology teacher, Nanda Rathi, who first inspired her to create her art. She adds that the level of emotional detachment exhibited towards students is another cause for concern. Older teachers are often averse to new concepts and ideas. While the Indian system may not see a change towards this ideology in the near future, it is Farheen’s hope to fight the cause, one that denies her the independence of being a free individual. And in this quest, she has stumbled upon two more concepts — multi-potentialising and emotional design.
While most people are focused and driven towards one career where they excel, there are those with the ability to manage two careers, thus multi-potentialising. In India, a country that’s obsessed with a ‘stable’ job, those with hybrid careers are innately wired to manage two things, but the lack of depth and understanding of the concept drags the individual to a low point. And Emotional Design, something Farheen has been trying to master for two years now, is a concept that deals with the mental as well as the aesthetic. Here, the learner interweaves, into their creation, elements that appeal to both the eye and the brain. “Art should make you feel something,” she says, with a twinkle in her eye. No truer words have been spoken.