The Farjam Collection gives kids a brush with real, valuable art.
Camp fires artistic intent in children
ABU DHABI // Thirty-five Persian carpets lie stacked in the middle of a room. In the centre of the pile is a ragged hole, a silhouette shaped like a famous cartoon character.
Three children consider the carpets, an art installation by the Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri, and offer their opinions.
"It's a waste of money," declares one, staring at the gaping hole in the shape of the Tom the cat from Tom and Jerry.
Happy with the analysis, the group moves on to the next work in the Farjam Collection at the Dubai International Financial Centre. It is a US-style saloon made of black and white beads.
The children gawp.
"Is that by the same guy?" asks one. "My gosh, maybe it took him 10 days."
"I think it took him two years," another replies.
For the young critics, part of a group of 11, there will be more paintings and installations to take in at the Farjam Collection's second annual art camp, which runs until the end of this month.
Lee Ann Biddle, the collections and exhibitions co-ordinator, says the art camp stands out "because we do have original, museum-quality works of art that the children can interact with".
Giving the children the opportunity to explore different mediums of art in the gallery environment is important, she adds.
"The object-based learning and the education side of it is what's sort of foremost to us here," Ms Biddle says.
For the children, aged between 5 and 10, the non-profit camp has been a success.
Alexandra Fenner, 8, from New York, says: "We get to dip our feet in this kind of paint and it's really, really funny. I have lot of teacher friends here and I love the paintings and drawings."
Alexandra, whose father is an artist, has learnt a range of things at the camp.
"I didn't know about that calligraphy thing, that you write, and I also wanted to know that you could make pictures out of beads and you actually can," she says, adding the art in the gallery is beautiful and fun.
The programme, taught by several experienced interns, includes short slide shows that demonstrate how to create abstract paintings and landscapes, among other things.
This is the second year Elea Claudelle, 6, from Austria, has attended the camp. She was one of the few allowed despite being younger than 7.
With the help of her teachers, Elea has created a landscape using felt, sand and feathers.
She describes her mini-masterpiece: "This is the sea, and here is the clouds, and here is the tree. There is also a little person, the boat, and the birds and the sun. I really like it."
For some children, such as Cyrus Alexander, 9, an Iranian-American, it took some convincing. But now his mother has to drag him from the gallery after camp has finished for the day.
It is this "unbridled creativity" and the teaching methods that make the camp such a success, says Sophie Furse, 23, an intern from the UK.
"The benefit of tying the camp to established artists is this knowledge, this visual knowledge, and the memory that the children then get," Ms Furse says. "It can be quite a peg to hang things on."
Allowing children to get close to the gallery's work inspires them, she says.
"Like a good cartoon there's multiple layers, and if you can engage a child in those first layers I think it's an opportunity for them to build up a connection with art," Ms Furse says. "I personally think it is a wonderful expression of many types of the human condition." Dotted with paint, glitter and sand, the children are finished for the day by 2pm. Below the pristine top floor of the gallery, surrounded by the remnants of their materials, they leave their work - some finished, some not - for the next day of camp.
"Every child is an artist," says Ms Furse, quoting Picasso. "The trouble is how to remain an artist once he grows up."
The Farjam Collection Art Camp runs until July 28 and operates from Sunday to Thursday between 8am and 2pm. It is for children between the ages of 7 and 10.
The cost is Dh500 for each week, including materials.
Correction: On July 19, 2011 this article was altered to correct the nationality of Cyrus Alexander.