Here at The Big Draw we’re passionate about the importance of drawing within education, and we love working with schools to help them include drawing in their curriculum. One group of schools doing just this is The Aga Khan Acadamies, a network of international schools across Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh and India. In 2022, they had an amazing celebration of art as part of The Big Draw Festival: Come Back to Colour.
We spoke to Antoinette Blaine from the Academies about their events!
Interview: Lucia Vinti in conversation with Antoinette Blaine
Could you let us know a little bit of background about the academies?
The Aga Khan Academies is a network of schools established in 2000 by His Highness the Aga Khan, with campuses located in Mombasa, Maputo, Dhaka, and Hyderabad. Our objective is to develop future leaders who are capable of positively contributing to their societies by providing them with the highest international standard of education, while ensuring access for accepted students regardless of their financial circumstances. Our academies offer a rigorous academic and leadership experience based on the principles of the International Baccalaureate, in addition to community service opportunities and education on the AK strands such as ethics and pluralism.
What did you get up to for your Big Draw events?
For our Big Draw events, we included the event in our grade 7 curriculum to introduce folk art from the local context. For example, students analysed the use of color and pattern in Bangladeshi folk art style and Russian art. We drew inspiration from renowned artists Abdus Shakoor of Bangladesh and Wassily Kandinsky of Russia. In Mombasa and Maputo, students incorporated their own pattern designs based on an object of special importance to them. All the Academies combined the focus on pattern and color with portraiture to tie in the overall concept of Identity. Students developed and created experimental art with watercolor and acrylic paint. We displayed these artworks along with their mark-making and design work to reflect on the theme “Come Back To Color.” We exhibited them in our school library, where parents and guests could observe and talk with the students about their work. We also had an opening where our students got the chance to talk to two of our Renowned local Artists (Honorary professors from the University of Dhaka, Fine Arts). In Maputo and Mombasa we had virtual exhibitions using the ‘ArtStep’ platform.
How did the students respond to the activities?
In all three Academies where we ran this unit of work, we found our students to be very enthusiastic towards the work and the culminating exhibitions, whether online (Mombasa & Maputo) or in person (Dhaka). They tried their best in their artworks and were inspired by about the possibility of the final exhibition. They also did their own framing, made invitation cards and exhibition text. They helped their teachers hang them on the wall or add them to the virtual gallery.
Do you have a particularly memorable or stand-out moment from the events?
Some of the stand-out moments were the number of parents and special guests who were able to join the live event in Dhaka. The school is newly opened this Academic year, which gave us a great opportunity to show that we value the Arts. Students recounted that they were very proud of having their work showcased in the virtual gallery, and some of our scholarship students (from Tajikistan, Iran, and Syria) were able to share their work via the virtual gallery with their families.
Why do you think creativity, and drawing especially, is such an important thing for young people to learn?
We emphasize in the Academies that creativity, particularly through drawing, is crucial for student development of imagination, innovation, and self-expression. Drawing promotes hand-eye coordination, spatial reasoning, and problem-solving skills, all of which are essential in various academic and professional fields. This latter point is important to us as we work in a context where the Arts are often undervalued, and we hope that people will understand the wider importance of drawing in particular. We also emphasize that drawing provides students with a means to communicate their ideas and emotions effectively.
Our theme for 2022 was Come Back to Colour. How did these theme resonate with you and inspire your choice of activities?
The theme "Come Back to Colour" was a meaningful and stimulating inspiration for teachers and student alike. As this was the first term where all four Academies had fully returned to the classroom, students were able to express themselves through the practical and experimental activities we chose. The theme encouraged the exploration of diverse colours and cultural patterns, which motivated our students to appreciate and celebrate diversity. The self-portrait activity that incorporated cultural patterns and colours was particularly effective in bringing the theme to life. It allowed students to express their individuality while highlighting their unique cultural identities, fostering a sense of belonging and pride in their heritage. Overall, the "Come Back to Colour" theme was a great way to inspire our students to continue engaging in creative activities that promote self-expression, diversity, and cultural appreciation.
What did you learn from your Big Draw event, and is there any advice you would give to any schools looking to run their own Big Draw?
Participating in the Big Draw event provides an opportunity to encourage all young artists to enhance their visual art skills. Our experience with the Big Draw event was that it encouraged our students' creativity, showcased their skills, and fostered a sense of community through art. For schools looking to run their own Big Draw event, we would recommend providing ample resources and support to students and teachers, encouraging students to explore a wide range of mediums and techniques, and inviting parents and the wider school community to view and appreciate the art produced. Overall, participating in the Big Draw event was a really positive way to showcase student talent and foster creativity in the educational community.
Thank you Antoinette!
Interested in organising your own Big Draw event? Registrations for our 2023 festival 'Drawing with Senses' are open now! Find out the benefits of becoming an organiser here and about this years sense-sational theme here.