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Esther Benjamins Trust, Kathmandu

In 2008 I spent 4 months an hour outside Kathmandu with the Esther Benjamins Trust setting up a sculpture workshop with the aim of bringing therapy through the art of making to victims of child trafficking. It was a challenging, humbling and incredibly rewarding 4 months. The below images show some of the processes I took them through...

Most of the girls had been sold to the circus when they were very young, often by their families, either because they couldn't afford them, or were promised the girls would have an education, or simply because boys are deemed to be of more value than girls. In any event, they were not educated and unlike British children had not even had the luxury of growing up doodling with pencils, so drawing was alien to them. We started with a still life and by the time I left, they were routinely drawing their designs.

The girls each chose something that they wanted to make in relief, from images or plants found in the garden. The idea of relief sculpture was a tricky one for them to grasp but as with everything they did, they persevered and produced some really lovely results. The aim was to then cast them in plaster.

The clay reliefs were then cast in plaster which proved to be a very messy operation! The casting process taught them to build mould walls around the pieces, mix and pour plaster, and then tamper it to remove air bubbles from the detail. Once cast the pieces were cleaned up and I think the girls were stunned by their resulting pieces.

Having mastered sculpting in clay then casting in plaster, the next project I got them to do was to design and make mirrors. Having been rescued from India, they had few personal posessions each, and most of them had issues with their identity due to the social stigma attached to having worked in Indian circuses. So I wanted them to have mirrors of their own so they could see how strong and beautiful they were. After drawing their designs, they modelled the simple shapes in clay then cast them

In creating the mirrors I taught the girls to use a jigsaw to cut out the wooden backing. I think this proved to be one of the most confidence giving elements of the 4 months. Not only does it require a need to be a little brave to master the idea of a fast moving blade, but it is probably a skill that hardly any of the men in their native villages would have come into contact with, and in such a male dominant society, this would have been a large feather in their caps.

Once the mirrors surrounds were cast, the girls carefully drew their design on to the plaster.

The girls then decorated the mirrors with their own mosaic design. The finished products were stunning and the girls were really excited by them. Considering none of the girls had done anything like this before, I felt their results were utterly amazing.


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