The “Butterfly Peace Garden” and “Monkey Tale Centre” in Batticaloa as
well as the Negombo “Crippled Crow Centre of Contemplative Art and
Narration” and the Colombo based “Step-by-Step” Studio: who came up
with such creative names? Canadian artist Paul Hogan and the Sri Lankan
artists and social animators who have worked with him over the past 15
years did so as part of a commitment to bring healing to children and
youth affected by war and natural disaster. They do it through cultivation
of the arts in a practice they call “Walking the Garden Path”.
Paul Hogan first used his art to work with children in Toronto in the
1980s. As founding creative director of The Spiral Garden (for stories that
never end) at the MacMillan Rehabilitation Center, he collaborated with
other artists and educators to design and implement programs for children
suffering from chronic asthma, neuromuscular disorders and other serious
The Butterfly Peace Garden opened its gates in Batticaloa on
September 11, 1996. It all began when the two “Pauls” met. Paul Hogan,
the artist and Reverend Father Paul Satkunanayagam the Sri Lankan
Jesuit psychologist, were attending the same conference in Hamilton,
Canada. Father Paul invited his counterpart to try out his Toronto
experience in Batticaloa.
Art in various forms has been produced by over 22,000 young people
at the Butterfly Peace Garden, everything from painting, mask making
and handicrafts, to story telling, theatre, and music. Different communal
groups (ethnic and religious) were brought together to participate in
programs based in local ecological, cultural and social realities as well as
the creative approach of indigenous people from as far away as Manitoulin
Island in Canada.
The curriculum includes “cloud seeding and cloud watching”
which are aspects of “mystery painting”. The adult animators or teachers
believe that art is the universal language. The Butterfly Garden team
believes that we are “born with hearts but imagination needs to be
developed”. Humorous interventions are helpful, especially those which
are spontaneously generated in the moment by animators conspiring with
children. One example of the many hundreds collected in the Garden Path
“Beautiful Nonsense” syllabus is something called “Dogging the Duck”.
Animators and children observe ducks as they come and go in the garden
– the way they walk and talk, their social gatherings and behaviour in
general. They then start to imitate the ducks and render their observations
in paintings, poetry, song, dance and theatre. It can take weeks and be a
rather meandering and organic experience to those newly exposed.
Paul Hogan refers to the methodology of the Garden as a “Huckleberry
Finn approach” which is his way to explain how he, an artist who regularly
meditates and practices yoga, will start an activity that resonates for him.
Children will observe and then, piqued by curiosity, start to imitate and
develop their own variations on the theme. He marvels how often their
creative endeavours outperform his own.
The Butterfly Peace Garden in Batticaloa has tried over the years
to remain a sanctuary for healing shielded from the pressure of outside
attention. Yet it has been the subject of much interest. Most recently the
Architects for Change series filmed the work Paul Hogan and his team
pursued in Sri Lanka. The Ashoka Foundation nominated Paul Hogan in
2003 as one of 15 Fellows in Sri Lanka, the only foreigner they judged
worthy to be recognized as an outstanding social entrepreneur.
In Negombo, not far from the main tourist beach hotels, Kora Kaputa
Kendra or Crippled Crow was established on a tranquil side street. Inside,
young people intently apply paint to canvas. Sometimes these paintings
are exhibited or made into cards. They help the young artist express his or
her inner feelings and emotions. Joint exhibitions have been undertaken
in Colombo, involving orphaned youth living in a Buddhist Temple and
Many outside people and organizations have supported the work
of the Garden Path over the decades. The long list includes Canadians,
Germans, Dutch, British, Italians and Americans. The Sri Lankan
Department of Education had helped bring some of these practices into
the classroom in various parts of the country.