Divya Marie Kato’s artistic journey began when she discovered solace in a sketchbook in her early teens. She was living in London at the time and her parents were going through a painful divorce that left her mother bankrupt, and her house repossessed. Drawing became Kato’s way of venting, processing and reflecting on everything that was going on. ‘As scary as this was at the time, having comfort ripped away taught us resilience and resourcefulness. We learned how to start from scratch. I am everything I am because of mama,’ she says.
Divya Marie Kato
From drawings to paintings, carvings, murals, live performances, and body art, Kato’s big, bold work embodies one basic premise: to be unafraid. ‘Being bold and brave to me is all about hope; the hope I feel opening a sketchbook to a fresh page or standing in front of a blank space,’ she says. It was this hope that saw her through yet more hard times: In 2004, her last year of college at Newcastle University where she was pursuing a BA in Fine Arts, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through the cycles of chemotherapy, they leaned on one another for support. And when they made it through the ordeal, it was that very hope that helped her make a whole new start, in Tokyo, the next year.
Over 13 years, Kato has worked to bring hope to others through her art. She has done several community-building and outreach programmes, whether it was a painting programme to inspire hope in the tsunami affected town of Onagawa, a workshop on International Women’s Day that introduced drawing as a tool for empowerment, or a body art collaboration with LUSH Japan to celebrate the natural beauty of Henoko, a region subject to intense political debate. Her signature program When in Doubt, Draw is an ‘anti-cookie-cutter-approach to teaching art’. (She detests the manner in which art teachers often draw and expect the students to copy their steps, resulting in everyone’s work looking the same.) ‘For me, drawing’s not about making great art. It’s a vital part of the way we understand ourselves, understand others and understand the world around us,’ she says.
Her website features a free six-session course called Divya’s Sketch Sesh. The programme consists of basic art exercises that help people discover the joy and ease of drawing. It serves as a teaser for When in Doubt, Draw – which she also added to her online school recently. Both courses provide lifetime access to the content once you’ve signed up. You can do them at your own pace and they require no prior knowledge or experience with art. The materials are also very basic, and to make things easier you can purchase an art kit from her website. ‘The sole requirements are enthusiasm, a fierce commitment to discovery and a brave heart in a world persuading you to be otherwise,’ says Kato. Apart from constantly updating her courses, she is now working on her first book about drawing.