Artist and author Tanya Abraham’s non-profit organization, The Art Outreach Society (TAOS) has been around for quite some time now. An unprecedented organization, TAOS has introduced art as not just creative work, but something with a healing and rejuvenating power. Tanya began the organization out of her undying love and dedication to art. She is a strong believer in the mantra that art is indispensable to a society’s development. TAOS has helped both the young and old alike tap into their creative sides, and in an increasingly competitive society, a unique initiative like this will undoubtedly make waves for the right reasons.
Here is an excerpt from our conversation with Tanya Abraham, one of Kochi’s most sought-after curators and artist, where she talks about TAOS, her take on art and education, and life as she has known it.
VK: How did TAOS come into being? What inspired you to create such a unique organisation?
The Art Outreach Society came into being from my love for the arts and the understanding that a rich society is one which invests in the arts. Art is not only about a pretty picture, but about creativity, the human brain, innovation and emotional development. With the arts, we link to a part of us, within us, that gives us a certain sense of exaltation—I am not sure if I can describe it in words adequately but anyone who has truly experienced the arts, in any form, and felt its beauty, will know what I mean. Art is also a tool for emotional healing—there is an unsaid connection between human emotions and the arts. Importantly, Art Education offers children a sense of worthiness and confidence, it creates a society of creative people, and creative citizens create a dynamic society.
VK: What does TAOS aim to achieve through its many artistic initiatives, and how does it wish to achieve them?
Our mission is to create a wholesome society by propagating and using art—not because art is something that is likeable or amiable—but because the human spirit is creative in nature. And art helps us access our creativity which is rather innately present in every human being. Today, with strong competition in all categories of work and the need to come up with new ideas in an ever changing technology oriented world, it has been proven that art is important to help the human brain achieve this. We tend to neglect the art in our country, the less privileged have little access to it, even see it as something niche. TAOS aims to challenge this misnomer and provide a platform for people to access and explore their creativity. If only we in India seriously realise the power of art, it’s not only art education that must be considered, but arts in education, meaning arts can be used to teach subjects at schools. For example, origami is a great tool to teach maths. One of the volunteer artists at TAOS explained this in detail, and we have been working with children at Udaya Centre in Gandhi Nagar for a year now, where we use origami to teach math. So far, we have achieved what we have been able to because there have been volunteers who helped TAOS reach where it is today. Without them nothing would have been possible.
VK: Do you think art and conventional education can go hand-in-hand?
Yes, as I said earlier, arts must be used to teach at schools. It has to be incorporated in daily learning and you will see that students who dislike a particular subject find ways through art to like it. There are plenty of articles on this subject based on research by scientists to prove this.
VK: Could you share some interesting anecdotes from your TAOS journey? Many lives have been positively impacted as a result of your NGO’s outreach works. Are there any particular stories from their lives that you wish you share?
One of our volunteers recently told us about a student at a Government School we offer art education to, who suffers from mild Down Syndrome, having improved in confidence, emotional stability and attention span. This is a great achievement for us. Almost all schools have told us about better interaction amongst students, increased desire to be present in school on the days our artists visit them. The journey has been great and challenging.
VK: Apart from TAOS, you also serve as the Art Director at Kashi Art Café, and Senior Research Administrator at Sahapedia. Are there any other projects or initiatives you are part of?
At the gallery, I link work with TAOS. Students are invited for open studios and talks with artists. Basically, I believe art must move out of the gallery and into people’s lives. I enjoy curating community based projects, the concepts I portray is very important in an exhibition for me. My question always is—how can art touch people’s lives? Their thinking, perception and emotions? For me, that’s when art makes sense. Of course the skill and aesthetic sense involved are crucial too. Sahapedia has its South India office in Kochi and I take care of the research team. It’s a great organisation that offers so much to society about the culture of India, of art forms one may never have heard of before. I feel it’s yet another way I contribute to the arts.
VK: You are an entrepreneur, artist, and author, among many other titles. Amidst hectic schedules, how do you manage to maintain a work-life balance?
Ha! Good question. I raised my son as a single mother. He is now in college and I have even more time to indulge in my pursuits. However, I make it a point to live life. And well, I love to travel, meet new people and learn new cultures. Importantly, I constantly see how my soul can be in touch with the presence of the spirit, I look for it to evolve in every way possible. I have learnt it is when we are bound by fears and self-created limitations that we stop discovering who we are.
VK: What or who has had the most impact on you in this artistic journey?
I come from a family that has always invested in the arts. My parents allowed me to pursue my talents and passion. My father is an artist, writer, musician and more. There were many intellectually tuned people in my joint family that I grew up in. I was lucky, and God has been kind to me. I met the right people at the right time which opened doors to learning, exploration and experimentation.
VK: How has art impacted your life? How important is art to one’s survival?
Art today is not only what I love but also my education and my work! I think that says it all!
VK: What are some upcoming projects you are excited about?
I am looking to expand TAOS through collaborations I am currently working on. For the Biennale in 2018 I am looking at an interesting idea that pertains to history and culture, more of a public art exhibition and not within a gallery space. I am working on two books, everything at the moment is exciting, and I am thankful!
VK: What would be your advice to aspiring artists?
Artists have the means to change lives—visually, emotionally and intellectually. Art is God’s way of saying that life is adventurous and dynamic. When one follows what one loves to do and overcomes the struggles involved, returns of every positive kind will be attained. Many worry about monetary returns. It will come. Yes, the journey can be more arduous for an artist who chooses to tread the creative path. But I believe that when we work hard and believe in what we do, everything will fall in place, in its time.