In one of the first classes at Kuwait’s latest art school, manifesto 13, Dalal Alnafisi was teaching a group of young students between six and eleven years old. She asked them to draw a landscape piece with beautiful scenery. Almost all the paintings included a mountain with the sun peeking out from behind. The students, educated in systems that do not encourage creativity, all had the same ideas of beauty. It was Alnafisi and her team’s goal to unleash the children’s potential and open their eyes to the unsuspected.
Alnafisi is the proud parent of a 12-year-old artist. The art was in her, but Alnafisi realized her daughter had little access to creative mentors in the place she spent most of her time, school. “I come from a family of creatives, but it’s not enough,” said Alnafisi. “I wanted my daughter to see me at work, to show her what my creativity is through the space. We try to encourage kids to let go, that its ok to experiment, and enrich them with historical information, conceptual information.”
Alnafisi came across a TED Talk by Ser Kevin Robinson, a leading thinker on creativity in the education system. As an advisor to government and education systems in Europe, Asia and the USA he has criticized the basis on which we evaluate students, the precedence placed on the math and sciences, and the lack of a creative education. “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement,” he said in the February 2006 Ted Talk. “It’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”
Inspired by the talk she joined forces with Nada Dalloul, an animator with a love for working with “lost souls” and teenagers, and artist Nino Paez. The three had the goal of offering collaborative art education in a space that would encourage a connection with the medium, and release creativity generally stifled by the traditional education system. “I searched for classes,” said Dalloul. “All I found was workshops. But with that you just walk away with a finished product, not a connection to the medium. So when I met Dalal, the word we used was ‘collaborate’. It wasn’t about business. It was all about bringing the values of art together in one space.”
Their first order of business was to create a manifesto, or mission, for the space. Their 30 declarations include bold statements and goals like ”make art education accessible”, “art can save generations” and “schools do not pay enough attention to art”. They also include words of encouragement for aspiring students like “show them your art”, “work with artists in your community” and “art is not prescribed, it’s explored.”
The space, located in Hawally on Ibn Khaldoun street, is a light airy studio with birch wood tables and matching stools, plenty of space for even the largest projects. The lounge area, with colorful cushions and beautiful rugs, faces a projection screen for lectures. Every student is given a sketchbook at the start of the class, and is welcome to use the space whenever they want to work on a project.
The curriculum at manifesto 13 is based on the international Art in Action program, which was developed in 1982 by Judy Sleeth in response to the same concerns about lack of creativity in her child’s kindergarten education, and is taught in over 200 schools nationwide. Their fundamentals of art course (for both younger and older children) focuses on introducing children to new media, and enriching their appreciation for art, both historically and, what might be hidden right underneath their noses. A comics 101 course provides teens and tweens (ages 11 – 18) beginner skills and background information on creating a visual narrative through experimenting in drawing and by learning from professionals in the field. Once students complete a piece, they are encouraged to sell it for charity. They also provide portfolio development and review for students hoping to apply for art programs in their chosen college. The team is growing their curriculum by continually inviting practicing creatives to come teach.
So when Alnafasi met with her young students later she asked them to look out of the studios wall to wall back windows, and draw Hawally. They began to open their eyes to the details they missed every other time they had looked out the window. Their pieces were reflective of detail, of looking and really seeing the landscape around them. For Alnafisi, this was the lesson, to learn to appreciate their surroundings, understand their environment and with encouragement find a medium to voice those feelings.
manifesto 13 is located in the Al-Mulla Complex in Hawally on Ibn Khaldoun St. For more information call 2265 0335, email [email protected] , or visit their website www.manifesto13.com . Follow them on Instagram @manifesto13, Twitter @manifesto13kwt or Facebook by searching manifesto13.