Long before the do-it-yourself concept became a phenomenon on the Internet, artist Harun Robert introduced ’90s kids to the idea on television. Professionally known as Rob, he hosted an interactive art show on Pogo called M.A.D, where he used simple materials to create art objects.

The popular kids’ influencer has now come up with India’s first live art show, Imaginarium: It’s a Wonderful World, in association with Sony Music. The 90-minute show is aimed at teaching children about a greener earth, by demonstrating how to use discarded items to make something beautiful. The organisers want to create  awareness about the three R’s of environmentalism—re-use, reduce and recycle.

With his longstanding reputation of being an art educator, Rob was just the guy to helm such a show. He told Guardian 20 that he wants to combine art and entertainment to create awareness about the environment.

The first stop of his multi-city event was Chennai and the second was Bangalore. The show is set to take place in Delhi and Mumbai in the coming months.

About the idea behind Imaginarium, he said, “It has been my dream project for a long time. When I started my career, doing art and craft for kids, I realised that there is a need for such shows. Kids spend so much time sitting in front of the television or computer that they don’t go outside. They don’t have the right outlet for their creativity. I wanted to give them a live platform where they can learn. I wanted to be on the ground, in front of people to have a one-on-one
experience.”

But he is certain that kids don’t want constant preaching of values. So he intends to teach them about recycling waste in a fun way. “I have always promoted the best out of waste crafts. I use materials that are easily found in the house or outside, so kids don’t have an excuse to not create things. The mission is for a more beautiful and wonderful world. It is easier to make a kid pick up a bottle to make something, rather than for the purpose of cleaning. Children are the most challenging audience, but they are honest and direct. One needs to employ a route of fun to teach them.” 

So how did Rob venture into the artistic world? He uses the word “curious” to describe himself. As a kid, he spent a lot of time exploring the items found in the house. When he went outside, he picked up things like twigs, bottles, boxes etc. and brought them home to make something with them. He told us that he invested his time in experimenting with materials during his childhood, which sparked his interest in art. That said, he expressed his concerns about today’s kids not having that kind of opportunity or free time.

Revisiting his days on M.A.D, he regards the show as a big success as it inspired kids to indulge in creative activities and to replicate the objects Rob was making on the show.

Even though Rob has always been inclined  towards art, he never planned to pursue it as a career. He said, “Like any other Indian parents, mine wanted me to become a doctor. But I ended up joining an art college. I went with my interest. I studied animation filmmaking, which took me to Mumbai, and I did a couple of projects before designing and hosting M.A.D.”

Today, he has two channels on YouTube—Mad Stuff with Rob for Kids and Rob in the Hood for the Youth. He publishes art-related content on the former and vlogs about his creative inspirations on the latter.

Talking about the contrast between television and the digital space as creative mediums, he said, “The digital scene has helped but there are still things that I have to learn, because television spoilt me a little. I did it for a very long time, almost a decade.” He elaborated on how everything needs to be planned and structured on TV. “One needs to go through a chain of approvals. Things are restricted there,” he added.

On the other hand, he is thrilled with the freedom digital platforms offer. “I can publish new material any day, or get instant reviews and requests from people and work according to that. For an artist, especially when I was fresh out of college, to get a platform on television was great. But now, it’s the age of the digital front, for which the reach is insane, the connectivity is great. It helps you shape and improve your content better. That has been fantastic”, he said.

So what drives his creativity? “I get inspired by anything and everything around me,” he responded. “I travel and learn. I go to local markets and see what craftsmen are doing, and if I see something unique, I try to imagine how a kid can make that item using simple material. I keep listing down my ideas in a book and then I go about flipping the pages to work on those. I observe people a lot and that helps me draw and design characters. Ideas are very important for developing creativity and the imagination.”

Rob is associated with public art initiatives like “Windmill: India’s first International Festival for Children” and “Doodle for Google” etc.

As for his future plans, his main focus is on curating Imaginarium in a better way. The show is interactive in nature and kids can participate in its various segments. They will be given a DIY kit, and in a workshop kind of a model  they will be taught to make things using these materials. “By the end of it, kids are not only enriching their brains and taking the beautiful visuals, they are also taking away some of the stuff that they have created with me. So the show is one of its kind,” he concluded. 

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