Puducherry art teacher V Umapathy transforms waste like leaves, roots, peels, vegetables etc. into intricate pieces of art, and has inspired many students to not only follow their example, but also pursue a career in art.

theThe selfish painter Salvador Dali once said: “The true artist is not the one who inspires, but the one who inspires others.”

Silamidu – a remote village in rural Puducherry – has witnessed this change brought about by the Government School art teacher. Inspired by his work, many students decided to pursue art as a profession.
Besides, Umapathy has inspired hundreds in his village and beyond – with his unique art and efforts.

He makes beautiful crafts from biodegradable materials such as bamboo, coconut shells, hay, straw, dried leaves, seeds, roots, branches, vegetable waste, etc., which are inexpensive and usually disposable. In this way, he advocates sustainability in his creations, leaving a lasting impact, especially on his students.

V Umapathy, Art Teacher at Kavignar Veru Vanidassan Government High School, Puducherry
V Umapathy, Art Teacher at Kavignar Veru Vanidassan Government High School, Puducherry

“This type of artwork is known as ‘recycling art’ or ‘art from nature.’ If we look around, we will find a lot of useful materials that would normally be thrown away. But if given the chance, they can be turned into great pieces of art,” Omapathi says India’s best.

To date, he and his students have managed to create more than 6,000 pieces of art, of which hundreds are on display at his school, Kavignar Veru Vanidassan Government High School.

Growing up, Umapathy was inspired by his father, who is a government school teacher and expert weaver. “While he was working in a school, he spent most of his evenings by dabbling in weaving. I would watch him and eventually developed an interest in colours, designs and art,” the 42-year-old recalls.

“After finishing class 10, I didn’t have to think twice before pursuing the arts. I did a BFA in Sculpture and then a Masters in Fine Arts.

V Umapathy conducting a workshop
Umapathy conducting an art workshop.

In 2010, he joined Kavignar Veru Vanidassan Government Secondary School, Seliamedu as an Art Teacher.

While working at the state school, it took him some time to get students interested. Experiment with different arts and crafts using a variety of materials. “That’s when a big realization hit me. Most students at my school couldn’t afford the materials or equipment needed to create DIYs. I decided to go for natural materials, which are as good as non-biodegradable and freely available,” he says.

art from waste
art from waste

Switching from non-biodegradable to natural materials has made all the difference. He says the move made the students more interested in the craft than before. Under his guidance, they were convinced that they could work wonders even from waste.

Eventually, he and his students began making interesting models of animals, birds, humans, vehicles, display pieces, and more.

V Umapathy students with their artwork
Students with their artwork.

“My students started enjoying the craft, and I was the happiest. They even started visiting the school during the weekends. Since then, we’ve been participating in competitions all over the state and constantly winning prizes,” he gushes.
“I taught them the method,” he adds, “and the rest is their creativity.”

The school now displays over 300 pieces of art, created by students over the years, on its walls.

Artwork by one of Umapathy's students
Artwork by one of his students.

Social media platforms such as Facebook also helped them showcase their artwork, thus increasing their reach. “People started visiting our school just to see the artwork. I also got many invitations to conduct workshops for students and teachers, both inside India and abroad,” says Umapathi, who went to Seychelles to conduct a workshop for students and teachers.

art from waste
Students with their artwork.

“A friend who works with the Education Department in Seychelles connected me via Facebook after seeing our work. It was an honor to go to another country to teach our craft,” he smiles.

Inspiring young minds

Art was outside the subject matter of Umapathy, and this reflected in his students as well. Right now, more than 20 students have chosen BFA fine arts and are seeking careers in it, he says.

Umapathy students with their artwork.
Umapathy students with their artwork.

Besides, the craft helped many of his students earn a living and support their families.

Of Umapathy’s first batch at the school, Muruga says, “I was in Class 6 when Umapathy sir joined the school. I was never interested in academics, nor was I interested in any extracurricular activities. But once we started taking art class, I realized it was something I enjoyed.” Clearly done. I was touched by the fact that even waste can be turned into something amazing, and that inspired me to pursue arts after school.”

“We used to attend different events while we were in school and spent some time in the art room in the school, even during the weekends. Later, when I expressed my desire to pursue arts after college, Sir Omapathi guided me. He also still helps me through Mentioning my name, whenever there is work or a project. There were also times when it helped me financially,” says the 22-year-old, who is currently working as a prosthetic designer in Chennai.

Umapathy conduct training sessions
Umapathy conduct training sessions.

Another student N Kavitha, a BFA final year student in Puducherry says, “I was inspired to take up my BFA in Painting after realizing that I loved the craft. It was Umapathy sir’s encouragement and guidance that helped me all along. Now I am planning to get a Master’s degree “.

Other than organizing workshops and camps for students, Umapathy has also trained many villagers in this craft. “With permission from the Education Department and with the cooperation of the Indian Bank, I was able to train a few villagers. After the training, they are all able to start making their own crafts,” says Omapathy.

Screenshot from one of the Umapathy training sessions
A snapshot from one of his training sessions.

He has also trained many in Salem, Villupuram and Kodaikanal area. “I was happy to know that a few of them started their own small units in their villages,” he says.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)


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