Eight artists show off talents that shout to be seen.
EVERY word is a struggle and his face is twisted with effort. At times, it seems as if the words have to be forced out of Nazmi Kamarulzaman bit by bit.
“This art exhibition… will help create a better awareness… of the talents and potential of people… with learning disabilities.”
Nazmi is a committee member of United Voice (unitedvoice.com.my), a society that believes those suffering from Down’s syndrome, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia, among other conditions, should speak up – for themselves – about their needs.
Nurulakhmal Abdul Rahman and mother Wairah Marzuki, with some of her vivid paintings of flowers and insects.
He was at the launch of the United Voice art exhibition at the Malaysia Tourism Centre (MaTiC), Kuala Lumpur, an event that is part of the Tourism Ministry’s 1Malaysia Contemporary Arts Tourism Festival (1MCAT).
Eight artists are showing some 80 works and they certainly have amazing talent.
One of them is Clement Ooi, 22. Despite his autism, he is a successful artist in his own right, what with numerous art shows (including two solos) and various awards (including from the Bryan Ayers Memorial Exhibition of North Carolina, the United States). His collectors come from as far afield as Switzerland, Japan and America.
Clement’s paintings of flowers and butterflies are full of radiant colours and bold strokes, in contrast to his reserved personality. So it is his mother, Annie Kam, who speaks of his various achievements while he wanders away from the glare of publicity.
She proudly shows off his other paintings on a small digital camera and talks about her son’s website (clementooi.net).
Damien Wong loves bright colours and has worked with different media.
But Kam admits things were much tougher when Clement was younger. “We didn’t understand his condition then. But we noticed that he liked doodling for hours, from the time he was five. Luckily I like art and could guide him.”
In contrast, the parents of Dennis Liew did not quite understand how to guide their son when they saw him doing detailed pictures of buildings when he was a young boy.
“We tried to discourage him from art in those days, but later realised we were wrong,” says mum Patricia Liew, an accountant. “My husband is an engineer. We were not from the creative field and could not quite relate to it.”
Looking at Dennis’ luminously translucent Chinese brush paintings of bougainvilleas, grapes and cockerels, one feels glad that his parents eventually allowed his natural talent to bloom .
“I can paint for up to four hours and not feel tired,” says the 25-year-old artist, who has Asperger Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder. “I just let it flow and feel very inspired and relaxed. I’ve also been reading up on Chinese and Japanese art.”
Dennis has a degree in graphic design from Curtin University, Western Australia, and now does commercial advertisements, brochures and merchandise such as caps and T-shirts. He led guests at the launch through the exhibits using a slideshow, a good example of United Voice’s goal that the differently-abled should be self-advocates for their special talents.
As for Chee Siew Chong, 17, the first time his father Kenny Chee noticed his artistic skill was after a road trip to Singapore.
“When we came home, my son drew all the highway exits we had passed. He was just six then,” Chee recalls.
Siew Chong has a penchant for intricate line drawings of buildings and landscapes and will often just take out his ink pen and sketchbook to doodle when travelling to places of interest. Lately, he has been drawing images from the Internet that catch his fancy. He goes to a special education school in Rawang, Selangor.
Tan Seng Kit with his riotiously colourful work, Birds and Passion.
Damien Wong, born in 1995, is autistic. But such is his natural talent that in 2008, his first painting received the Special Merit Award from the Brian Ayers Memorial exhibition in Boone, North Carolina.
Damien is fond of cheerful, bright colours and has worked with pen and ink, colour pencil, crayon, watercolour and acrylic.
When Tan Seng Kit, 22, wanted to watch the movie Chicken Little, he drew the cartoon character.
“When he was young, he didn’t talk,” explains his mother, Jenny Soh. “So he would draw out everything he wanted, like a fried egg.”
An artist, whom Soh declines to name, noticed her son’s talent. So she started him on art classes eight years ago.
Earlier this year, Seng Kit won third placing at the National Abilympics Art Competition.
Besides painting, he also bowls. He won a silver medal at the Special Olympics World Games in Shanghai, China, in 2007.
“I hope the public can be more aware of the abilities, rather than the disabilities, of these people,” Soh adds.
Nurulakhmal Abdul Rahman, 20, used to observe the graceful movement of insects in parks for hours, and then go home to her drawing block. In 2008, she won the first and third prizes at an art competition organised by Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd. She has produced vivid paintings of flowers and insects for the current show.
Her mother, Wairah Marzuki, formerly director-general of the National Art Gallery, is now an advisor for the United Voice Art Gallery.
> United Voice is on at MaTiC (No. 109, Jalan Ampang, KL) till July 31, after which it will move to the United Voice Art Gallery (No. 603, Jalan 17/12, Petaling Jaya, Selangor).