If we were to look back to our childhood, some of the happiest moments we spent was probably doing some kind of art. For me, it was painting ‘diyas’ for Diwali, randomly doodling at the back of ‘rough notebooks’, a stained-glass painting phase that I went through and a bit of embroidery.

While I’m definitely not the most artistic person around, I always found a sense of comfort in a DIY project. Those few hours of deep concentration, thoughts wandering in my head aimlessly, when nothing else mattered except finishing the task in front of me.

I honestly never continued the pursuit of art as a hobby, but I do love stories on how it has changed people’s lives.

My favourite and possible the most touching one that I came across was from my last vacation to Eastern Europe in October 2019. It seems like eons ago though, in the current context of travel restrictions!

I’m a bit of a trivia nerd and love taking walking tours with local guides, taking in a bunch of lesser known, interesting facts about the city I am in.

On a walking tour of Prague, we visited the Jewish Quarter and it was at the Jewish Museum that I came across the most stirring application of art therapy, in a time when it was probably not even considered a healing technique.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was an Austrian artist and teacher, who along with her husband was deported to the Terezín ghetto.

Friedl gave art lessons in secret to the children at the ghetto, which was remarkable because this was at a time when even basic education for Jewish children in the camp was not a priority. She encouraged them to look beyond the horrors they faced in their daily life and instead depict their hopes and dreams for the future.

Art was used by her as a way to connect with the emotions of a child and bring out their innermost feelings at a time when art therapy was not even in a term!

When her husband, Pavel Brandeis was deported to the infamous Auschwitz- Birkenau extermination camp, she volunteered to go along with him. Since this camp was pretty much a death warrant, she understandably wanted to be with him till the very end.

However, before Friedl left, she entrusted a friend with two suitcases filled with 4,500 made by her students at Terezín.

Friedl was later murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz-Birkenau. However, the paintings were brought to the Jewish community at Prague and were later handed over to the city’s Jewish museum.

Sadly, 550 of the 650 young artists were killed in the camp but were immortalised by their paintings, that through the years travelled around the world as a beacon of hope.

And that’s what art should be in the end, isn’t it? Something that gives us hope, gently nudging us to remain dreamers.

 

After this very emotional tale, I would like to leave you with this thought – we don’t have to be ‘good’ at art. We don’t have to always colour between the lines or follow some great artist’s complicated principles. We just have to remember to be true to ourselves and that we are doing it only because it brings us joy.

After all, art is an expression of who we really are and there is no right or wrong
there!

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