Dhanaraj Keezhara is a visual media teacher at Christel House India in Bangalore. Dhanaraj, who is also an accomplished artist in his own right, believes his expertise has been developed less by formal artistic training than by his own hard work and dedication to the discipline. He prides himself on being self-taught and well trained through his personal engagements with art, society and the politics of his time. This approach has helped him to develop a unique style of artistic creativity.
Christel House India, one of five schools of its kind internationally, has been serving the children of Bangalore since 2001. The Christel House organization seeks to “break the cycle of poverty” and instill the core values of respect, responsibility, independence, and integrity in its students. The international organization was developed through the vision and giving spirit of Ms. Christel DeHaan, who invested her private fortune into providing opportunities for children in underserved communities. In each of its learning centers, Christel House provides students with health care, uniforms, and nutritious meals, in addition to quality education. Dhanaraj has been a part of the organization since 2001 and has been an integral part of the holistic educational opportunities extended to students of Christel House India, Bangalore.
Dhanaraj’s personal vision and philosophy of art are combined in his teaching to develop an alternative visual-artistic space, where creative students can engage in and express their own visual experiences. He explains, “Finding children’s creative blend and embodied aesthetic imagination may be a difficult task; however, if you can invest some time in that, then you learn the best fusion and rhythm of art and its encounter with the real and imaginative domains of the society.”
Dhanaraj’s personal work is a continuous engagement with art, emerging from the negotiations of people within their society and environment. Fired by a belief in art’s ability to heal and renew a world torn asunder by violence and strife, Dhanaraj has continuously involved himself in community initiatives and education. From his student days at the College of Fine Arts in Kannur, through his ten-year stint at various NGOs, and his present work at Christel House India, art has always been a means for him to connect and share his emotions and experiences with others.
Adding to his various experiences, Dhanaraj has lived and worked with several indigenous communities in India, including the tribal communities of Wayanad in Kerala, the Lambani community of Bidar (bordering Karnataka and Maharashtra), as well as the Narmada valley community during the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Campaign). These unique experiences and dialogues continue to enrich his work. He has also presented many successful art exhibitions in Bangalore, including Truth From The Margins (2009), Mind Raining (2010), and stirring silence (2010)…
When speaking of students he has worked with, Dhanaraj says, “They have the best artistic skills.”
Dhanaraj participated, along with some of these students, at the Adobe Youth Voices Summits held at Stanford University (2009) and Santa Clara University (2011). “The students’ success in attending these summits proves that, given the right education and guidance, students from disadvantaged families can do as well as children from privileged backgrounds.”
He adds, “Modern technologies, and the aims of Adobe Youth Voices curriculum, multiply the imaginative realms of school kids and also facilitate a technical push to the creative minds; where technology meets the creative mind, a perfect symphony of modern art is achieved: Create With Purpose.”
Dhanaraj encourages his students to use all possible technologies to examine multiple fields of modern visual art, including the traditional pencil, paints and paper, photography, animation, and film making and editing. Adobe Youth Voices has brought together all of these elements in the project curriculum. “Considering my students,” says Dhanaraj, “this curricula works with their ‘mind’s eye’ which was once completely marginalized.”
Dhanaraj is also serving as a judge in the Adobe Youth Voices Aspire Awards. Says Dhanaraj of his intentions in this role, “Being a judge of this programme, my aim is not only evaluate the merits of technical skill but also to understand how technologies are challenging students to negotiate with the various social and political questions associated with society. I believe it is important to observe how young minds are responding to the world and events around them. As a visual media teacher and creative practitioner, I can say that new technologies like Adobe Youth Voices have created a space for young minds to express their own concerns and worldviews, both aesthetically and socially.”