Divya Marie Kato
Founder, Art for Hope; The Big Draw Japan; When in Doubt, Draw
“If I didn’t have access to art in my formative years, life would’ve turned out differently,” says Paris-born, Tokyo-based, British Indian artist and educator, Divya Marie Kato. “My sketchbook was a constant companion through my parents' separation, the resulting bankruptcy, repossession of our home and my mother's cancer treatment. Drawing and painting allowed me to express what I didn't have words for. Art was something to look forward to and taught me that my inner resources were the most valuable thing I had.”
Inspired by John Ruskin, who famously championed drawing as a means of nurturing independent inquiry and connectedness with nature, Divya encourages all artists to return to nature and start by drawing a line.
“A pencil in my hands showed me I had the power to create something out of nothing and the blank page offered an invitation to start from scratch,” says Divya. “From London to building a new life in Japan in 2005, I've been following that invitation ever since.”
In 2012, Divya was a volunteer relief worker in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011. It was there that she witnessed the empowerment that street art brought to the Japanese fishing community of Onagawa. She has since witnessed “the joy an after school art club brings to impoverished students in Indonesia and the hope a mural painting project brought to refugees in Turkey.” These experiences, combined with her philosophy that opportunities are gifts, inspired Divya to build the project ‘Art for Hope’, through which she could showcase stories of how art helps and heals and contribute artwork for charitable fundraising events. “Since our ancestors began drawing on cave walls, drawing has been a vital part of the way we understand ourselves, understand others and understand the world around us. Drawing's a language of observation, expression and independent inquiry. And, in the words of Big Draw patron, Sir Quentin Blake, a language we can all learn to speak in different accents.”
Divya subsequently created the course, ‘When in Doubt, Draw’, at the drawing school where she is CEO, Atelier Kato Tokyo; and founded The Big Draw Japan, which organises community art events. Moving to Japan was the event that triggered a realisation in Divya that her vision would take off. “The demand for classes, workshops and events such as The Big Draw Japan, revealed the greatest misunderstanding people have about drawing: it's about making 'great art.'”
“My students range in age and backgrounds and, from listening to the stories released through the creative process, what unites them is their need for reflection. I've seen them work through inner struggles, release stress, come together and collaborate, reconnect with nature, tackle life's big questions and build confidence.”
For Divya, one of the most rewarding aspects of her work is hearing from her students how access to art has helped them to process their experience or regain their confidence. “To me, this is the power of art. Rather than wealth or fame, art can help people act and feel differently. Art changes lives. Through my work, I wish to encourage as many people as I can to draw on their best technology: imagination.”
Divya is acutely conscious of the distinct role she plays as a founder of a social enterprise. “As a social founder, you're more focused on improving quality of life through access to education or improving infrastructure. You're dedicated to making a difference in peoples' lives that, in turn, will impact society.” As in 2012, Divya feels the urgency of the need for art in a world where communities are facing ever greater disadvantage. “In these rapidly changing times of new technology, digitalization and disruption, drawing provides an invaluable opportunity for reflection and art continues to bring hope.” Over the coming months, she will be selling prints to raise funds for Refugees International Japan (one of the aspects of her work that she finds most fulfilling), releasing an online drawing programme, submitting a proposal for her first book, ‘When in Doubt, Draw’, and preparing for the third Big Draw Japan event in October.
To this day, the blank page is what enables Divya to overcome the challenges of managing her work as a social founder. “As in childhood, so in adulthood, the opportunity that a fresh page or blank canvas provides always keeps me going.” So too have three characteristics in particular, which Divya believes all social founders need in order to thrive: initiative, resilience and “keeping the why behind your work in front of you at all times. Write it out, paint it, put it to music - whatever you have to do to have a constant reminder by your side.”
Divya’s work has been featured by ELLE, The Indian Express, Curley Nature Journal, the Royal Society of Arts, Metropolis and Tokyo Weekender; and is collected by ANA InterContinental, LUSH and private collectors in Japan. She is a Companion of The Guild of St. George and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. You can find out more about Divya on her website.