Colouring-in books have exploded and Queensland Art Gallery (QAG) seems to have tapped into the crazy in a really interesting and interpretive way. The gallery has set up an area for people to explore The Woman and the Parrot by artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam. The painting features patterns that are important in Gond culture and it is this aspect of Shyam’s work that visitors are encouraged to investigate.
Visitors choose from one of four templates – a man, a woman, a bird and a tree – which are printed onto black plastic paper. The images are transparent, while the rest of the paper is black. The template is then placed on the benchtop and the transparent sections allow the table’s patterns to show through. The visitor then traces the pattern with markers and fills in the white space any way they choose.
The really striking aspect of this activity was that the visitors using it – at least when I visited – were all adults, ranging from people in their twenties all the way up to their sixties, and of both sexes. While children weren’t excluded, the facilitators in the area said that children use it from time to time but prefer to use another play area nearby. Meanwhile adults make up the majority of visitors using this station and spend quite a bit of time here completing their work of art.
Whether or not visitors really experience Shyam’s artwork or aspects of Gond art on a deep level, it nevertheless encourages them to participate in art for themselves, even at the ‘simple’ level of putting coloured patterns into an outline.
The quiet of the gallery allows participants to focus on what they are doing, finding a moment of reflective peace. Contrast this with parents who, while supervising their children in the nearby play area, spend most of their time with their heads down and looking at their phones.
I found this an excellent activity and addition to the gallery’s offering and a simple stroke of genius to encourage visitors – particularly adults who may not necessarily be part of the art set – to spend more time in the here and come to associate it with fun and pleasure.