Dispatches: Paint Like a Child

Ajani Husbands, an Assistant Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, is working with the Phillips’s Rachel Goldberg as she facilitates workshops. Read Rachel’s last post in her series on teaching art workshops in Pakistan here. You can follow her on Twitter @EducatorRachel and also on Instagram.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” —Pablo Picasso

Image of Mashal Model School students in Islamabad, Pakistan

Students at Mashal Model School in Islamabad, Pakistan.

One may never see such enthusiasm, such vigor for life as is visible in the work of the students from the Mashal Model School in Islamabad, Pakistan. The students at the school are mostly refugees from Afghanistan, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from throughout Pakistan, or simply street children, who have run away from abuse or poverty at home. When children come from such conditions, one expects them to be angry and bitter towards the world. Yet the children of the Mashal Model School exude love and an eagerness to learn.

Students create art in response to Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Students create art in response to Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Watching Rachel Goldberg work with the children was truly remarkable. The students quickly snapped up Jacob Lawrence’s story, asking pointed questions after Rachel’s brief explanation. “Were his parents rich?” “Is he in any of the paintings?” “Why didn’t he paint any faces?”

Phillips Educator Rachel Goldberg conducts a workshop

The Phillips’s Rachel Goldberg in action, conducting a workshop in Islamabad.

For many of these children, The Migration Series is an easy concept to grasp, having emigrated from Afghanistan or the farthest reaches of Pakistan to end up in Islamabad. Their artwork reflected such journeys, with stories as vivid as the ones depicted in Jacob Lawrence’s work.

One student made a collage of his vision for his old school in Afghanistan, a brand new building with several stories and the sun shining overhead. Another created a tree, surrounded by a border with a red snake climbing up the trunk. “His family is trapped inside the tree,” the school’s director explained, “and the snake represents the religious extremists ready to strike against his family should they leave.” The students’ stories spoke volumes, telling lifetimes of experiences on single sheets of paper.

Zeba Husain, founder and director of Mashal Model School, spoke a little bit about the school and the workshop in an impromptu interview. The interview was cut short since a student had to leave early. “He says that he’s done drawing and has to go to work,” she explains. The student, perhaps 12 years old (he himself was unsure of his age) had drawn a colorful train, but was running late for his job selling samosas. Still, he had drawn the train with such purpose that one wondered if he minded being late at all, or would have stayed to draw some more if circumstances permitted.

Picasso and Raphael never experienced the lives lived by the children at Mashal Model School. Perhaps this is why it has taken them lifetimes to learn how to paint with the fervor of these children.

You can find out more about Mashal Model School on its website and Facebook page.

Ajani Husbands, Assistant Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan

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