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June 6, 2005

Deaf students show their creative talent to the world

From: Daily Star - Lebanon - Beirut,Lebanon - Jun 6, 2005

The Al-Hadi Institute for the Deaf and Blind showcases the amazing paintings of its children

By Ramsay Short
Daily Star staff
Monday, June 06, 2005

BEIRUT: It is not often in Lebanon that people who have no relations or contact with people with disabilities hear about young disabled children, their lives and their passions.

It is less often we hear about their art. And it is even less often, especially in the English language press, that we hear about the social work the Islamic Shiite political movement Hizbullah and its affiliate associations do to help children with disabilities to help themselves - academically, creatively and culturally.

Which is partly why the Plastic Arts exhibition prepared by deaf Muslim students from the Hizbullah-funded Al-Hadi Institute for the Deaf and Blind, and opened under the patronage of the Lebanese Artists Association deserves some press.

The other reason is the strength of the art itself, which although on the whole untrained, is expressive, colorful and well worth checking out.

In total there are 110 paintings all produced by deaf students and using various techniques on display at the exhibition, which opened Thursday at the Lebanese Artists Association headquarters in the Verdun neighborhood of Beirut.

The youngsters explained they had been inspired by the paintings of international artists such as Van Gogh, Picasso and Paul Gauguin - many using a specific plastering technique instead of painting using straight oil colors, in a bold and beautiful manner.

The president of the Lebanese Plastic Arts Association, Adel Qodeih, said their association often works with creative people from all sections of Lebanese society, but especially with young students who have special needs. That is why he was particularly happy to have helped out with the Al-Hadi Institute exhibition.

Qodeih stressed the importance of artistic education to students with special needs.

"For deaf students, art is a special visual language allowing them a more imaginary, creative, honest, vital, active and joyful expression," he said.

Qodeih said he saw in the various techniques used by students "diversified skills revealing a manual ability, creative capacities ... the acquisition of knowledge ... which turns the student into a social actor integrated in social relations and contributing to founding an equal and creative society, capable of solving problems."

As students, artists and families strolled around the exhibition rapid fire exchanges of sign language were had commenting on and critiquing the works on show.

Stand-out paintings include 17-year-old Raja Ayyad's expressive collage of brightly colored scraps of paper entitled "Motherhood," depicting a mother and child in embrace.

Also particularly powerful is 11-year-old Abbas Faqeeh's "A Gift," a mixture of collage work and oil pastel, wholly Cubist in style. It depicts two figures whose faces can be seen from the front and the side on a large blue background and for someone so young is daring and visually beautiful.

Mohammad Baker Fadlallah, the general manager of the Al-Mabarrat Association which founded the Al-Hadi Institute in 1988, was pleased with the show and highlighted the importance of giving deaf and disabled children access to art.

"It is vital for these students to paint and create and present their art to the whole of society so the world can feel and know their problems and to help them achieve full inclusion in society at large," he writes in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition.

"Importantly, art raises their self-confidence and promotes their rights too," he added.

For Hizbullah's spiritual leader and senior Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who is sponsoring the show, the ability of young children with disabilities to create and promote their art is vital and something that all good Muslims should help.

"One of the most important Islamic responsibilities upheld by the Al-Hadi Institute in taking care of the disabled, in particular the deaf, is bringing forth their creative potential. It is a way that the students can produce more than one creative work appropriate with their characteristics and their ambitions and can reassure their future," Fadlallah said.

"(The work produced in this exhibition) is no less in value than those made by professionals ... and (creating art) will invite them for more openness toward other artistic, humanistic and cultural experiences that they may join society through this gateway and turn them into Muslim citizens open to life and able to replace despair with hope and sadness with cheerfulness," he added.

Perhaps what is most telling about Fadlallah's words is they show an often unknown side of Shiite Islam, one that is open and respecting of all humanity, including people with disabilities.

Even in the modern age, in some more conservative Arab countries, especially poverty-stricken ones, children with disabilities have often been considered cursed by God, and even warped human beings. Part of the role of Al-Hadi Institute and other such groups is to change that backward opinion - and with this latest exhibition they are wholly succeeding.

The exhibition runs at the Lebanese Artists Association in Verdun until June 9.

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