“LAUGH, Reysha, laugh.” For most people, it’s hard to chuckle upon request, but the 13-year-old pulls it off easily, giggling for the photographer while nestled comfortably in a stack of colourful beanbags.
Other people need a slice of motivation. “Rose, think of free pizza!” which works initially until the 14-year-old returns to her unyielding solemn expression, probably having quickly realised she isn’t getting any free pizza.
Who would have guessed that Reysha was the one more nervous about our meeting, her mind conjuring a paparazzi-type scenario where she would have to face many strangers and cameras. For the more rational Rose, her level-headedness led her to realise: “Tak kan interview is like that, it’s only for two teenagers!”
It’s not every day that a teenager gets asked to strike poses for a newspaper photo-shoot and face an interviewer. These two girls possess qualities that I never had at their age: Creativity, resourcefulness and a drive to achieve their goals.
One teaches herself to sing in foreign languages, and makes her own jewellery to sell. The other has an interest in robotics and is learning drums and archery. Despite seemingly differing characters, Rosehumaira Xiong Yu Lin and Hareysha Sankar have something else in common — a love for drawing.
Haresyha or Reysha, as she’s better known, has been drawing since the age of 6. Rosehumaira (or Rose) plans to produce her own comic series. The two were among 18 participants of The Wonder Workshop.
MAKING A SOCIAL IMPACT
Designed to train aspiring young creative talents, this workshop is the inaugural effort of a social impact programme called Art For Cause that provides a platform and collaborative opportunities to help propagate art, creativity and entrepreneurship among teens and young adults.
These initiatives are the brainchild of Nik Adina Taty Zainin, who founded ContentLab, the company behind Art For Cause, a company with a mission to create and curate content that will benefit children from countries in the Asean community.
The difference between The Wonder Workshop and other art-driven ones, she shares, is that hers “has an entrepreneurial slant”.
Seated across me within the minimalist confines of the Oasis Discovery Centre where the workshop was held, Nik Adina continues to explain: “They don’t draw here for fun; they draw to help a cause. They have their own happy anime drawings but these are teens who want to express how they feel about social issues. They’re sensitive and deep. In addition, they’re already somewhat entrepreneurs. For example, some already get online commissions.”
It’s startling and impressive at the same time to learn that the business mind-set has started young with some offering commissioned drawings such as a character’s head for a few US dollars.
“Throughout the entire programme, they’re professional artists and I treat them as professional artists, not students,” remarks Nik Adina who brought in a real client to give them real-world exposure.
The participants were tasked with designing graphic characters to convey messages as part of a sticker campaign by Sisterhood Alliance to advocate safety and teen empowerment.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
The workshop entry requirements are easy to meet. Besides falling into the teenage category, applicants need to have produced their own art already and preferably have an online presence.
As the workshop programme designer, Nik Adina was impressed by the art she viewed.
“I knew they were talented,” asserts the 47-year old who has a teen artist daughter. “I just didn’t know the level of talent and how that, when pushed, they can go beyond the school curriculum or whatever they draw in school.”
However, there was one clear trait that she felt was lacking among these teens.
“Communication. The verbal form. It’s lacking. Yeah, mmm, okay.” Nik Adina goes on to elaborate on these monosyllabic tendencies. “I think it’s due to lack of confidence. Also I think they feel like they’re not being heard because in school you get reprimanded if you speak about these issues. It’s also because art isn’t considered important. But that’s their passion. When people talk about art, straightaway it’s ‘oh you’re playful, you don’t really wanna study’. It’s considered non-academic. Somehow art has been put at the bottom (by society),” laments Nik Adina woefully.
Thankfully, through Art For Cause, young creatives are not only given the opportunity to express their talents and passion, but also to help serve a cause with an aim towards becoming Creative Entrepreneurs. The recent Wonder Workshop was just the first step on this learning curve and over the course of two days, the participants had much to absorb.
They were exposed to concepts of powerful messaging campaigns by an advertising agency representative.
They collaborated with their peers to highlight an issue before going on to develop an impactful image and message. They learnt to take briefs from real clients, as well as to ask questions and negotiate with the client. Guests from the creative industry were also invited to the workshop to provide guidance and share their stories.
One particular guest clearly made a big impression.
When I ask Rose and Reysha to share what they liked the most about the whole experience, a flurry of excitement is unleashed, beginning with Reysha who says: “You don’t get an opportunity like that every day; to meet someone who came all the way here to talk about his life and how art can improve a lot of things. And he was talking about how he used to draw for The Birth of Kong….”
And at that point, I jump in to confirm that she’s referring to local comic artist and illustrator Mohammad Yazid Kamal Baharin, better known as Zid.
The same question subsequently prompts Rose to enthuse how her favourite part of the workshop is “… the fact that Zid shares a similar interest to me”. A jumble of phrases streams out and I manage to catch “Jojo”, “old series”, “manga” and “posing”.
My head starts to spin and I’m feeling like the outsider of an inside joke, but somehow I fit the pieces together of this teen language puzzle to discover that she’s gushing about a highly popular Japanese manga and anime series, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventures which first gained popularity in the 1980’s.
Still none the wiser about the series, it’s nonetheless pleasing to see Rose and Reysha in their comfort zone and showing how communicative teens can be when given the opportunity.
LESS FEAR, MORE CHARACTER
“They speak more,” reveals Nik Adina about the significant changes that she noticed after the workshop.
“In fact they speak too much just after one workshop!” she adds, chuckling.
“They talk to their parents more too. In fact, one parent said I’m sorry we’re late (on the second day)… She hasn’t finished talking from last night about her experience!”
The improved communication also extended to better interaction between the genders and displays of confidence.
“The workshop helped to increase my confidence around a big group of people,” confirms Reysha, a student of SMK Desa Perdana, who confides that her initial nerves gave way to surprise upon meeting the friendly people there.
She adds that it also helped her get over her fear of public speaking. Rose concurs, chipping in that she gained confidence too, something that will hopefully help her in school at SMK Damansara Utama when she next needs to deliver a presentation in front of her whole class.
Above all these outcomes, a totally unexpected development took place as a consequence of The Wonder Workshop. Discloses Nik Adina: “For me, the biggest ‘wow’ was that the workshop had personality breakthroughs. That was quite shocking to me.”
Referring to teen problems such as depression, anxiety and bullying, she didn’t realise at first that these were issues faced. I press her a little for a specific person in mind, prompting her tone to drop before whispering: “Actually all of them. The (still) waters ran even deeper for them and when we reached out to them, they got a lot more than just an art workshop.”
Though dealing with teenage issues sounds like a tough task, this social entrepreneur feels that securing suitable clients is one of the biggest challenges.
Clients are essential because they pay for the commissioned artwork by the teen artists and help make the goal of creative entrepreneurship possible for them.
Keen to ensure that her programme isn’t perceived as a charity, Nik Adina is striving to collaborate with social enterprises, NGOs and corporate organisations that are interested in carrying out a social messaging campaign — something that the first batch of teen artists have been trained for and they have demonstrated an understanding of art and storytelling beyond their years.
In fact, exciting plans and life-changing opportunities are in store under the programme.
Talents will be chosen and trained to become volunteer mentors and facilitators who will engage other young talents to develop their artwork, not just locally but across the Asean region.
“Subsequent projects will involve taking selected teens to these countries to tell and illustrate their stories.”
THE WONDER WORKSHOP
Workshop dates: Today and tomorrow
Where: Oasis Discovery Centre, Unit 05 & 07, Oasis Piazza, Oasis Square, Oasis Damansara, Jalan PJU 1A/7A, Petaling Jaya, Selangor
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