Artists with disabilities Life & Style

Not Just Art, an initiative by city-based Youth4Jobs brings hope to the artists with disabilities

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A celebration of arts and abilities

Meera Shenoy, founder of Youth4Jobs noticed an interesting pattern during her frequent travels. Most parents, who met her to seek jobs for their children with multiple disabilities in corporate sector, also carried drawings done by them. Amazed at their love for art, she decided to provide avenues for their expression. When she realised there were no portals for these special children, she launched an initiative ‘Not Just Art.’

Meera Shenoy

Meera Shenoy   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

After 18 months of its launch, the idea tasted success when it hosted its first edition of ‘Discovering Ability Art Awards 2019’ in New Delhi recently. Meera is elated that the steps to empower disabled in the field of arts is having an impact. The story of ‘Not...’ began with a brainstorming session. When Meera’s daughter suggested the name, she felt ‘Not’ might have an negative connotation. “My daughter made me understand art has different connotations. It is not for commercial purpose; Art is a medium to put their emotions on canvas so it is beyond art.”

Priya Charry, an American India Foundation fellow helped Meera set up the website and logo was designed by New York-based artist. Their main task was to identify such artists and the word spread in art colleges and among well known artists and even printed details of this website on the other side of her business card and gave it to the CEOs. The idea worked and companies became interested in this novel idea. “Synchrony India Pvt Limited bought one such painting from the collection to display it in their conference room,”

In its initial months, an art camp and art therapy workshop at two schools — Government High School for the Blind Girls and Government School for the Deaf at Malakpet adopted by Youth4Jobs, followed an innovative approach. “We had put different spices for colours to help visually impaired girls smell and distinguish these colours and put them together,” she shares.

Breaking stereotypes

For a wider reach and popularity, ‘Discovering Ability Art Awards’ were created as a step to break stereotypes. “In some Bollywood movies, the differently-abled are shown with sad faces and music. I wanted to change the approach; There were also never any awards given for the differently-abled in art. So, we started one,” she says. When she was invited by the UNESCO for the first Asia Pacific Cultural Event for Disability in Singapore, she used the opportunity and UNESCO came forward to open the door of their premises for these artworks.

    Art that heals (from right) Works of differently-abled artists in a collage; Meera Shenoy By

    Art that heals (from right) Works of differently-abled artists in a collage; Meera Shenoy By  

    The disabilities were divided under different categories — Intellectual, locomotor, multiple autism, visually-impaired and cerebral palsy. Speaking about the challenges, Sravan Agnihotri of Youth4Jobs and Ismael Byes, an American India Foundation fellow say co-ordination was tough. “The artists were not tech savvy and most of them couldn’t speak English. We had to literally call everyone and in one month got 128 entries from 18 states,” share the duo. The works were judged by Prof Suresh B V artist, and educator, Department of Fine Arts, S.N. School of Arts and Communication University of Hyderabad. To ensure the artists were judged on their talent, the disabilities were not disclosed. “The judges looked for originality, how an artist has overcome disability and their neck and wrist movement before choosing seven artists as the winners. Fifteen artists found a special mention,” says Meera.

    Not Just Art, an initiative by city-based Youth4Jobs brings hope to the artists with disabilities

    One such award winning artist is Mohammed Yasar B. Hailing from Palakkad, he had multiple disabilities and was aggressive due to depression. Meera shows us a letter written by Mohammed’s mother about her son’s changed attitude and his boost in confidence because of the award. “This is the kind of impact that we are aiming at,” smiles Meera.

    The three-day event held at UNESCO’s Cluster House in New Delhi was an inspiring one and the place buzzing with artworks and seven artists (winners who got a cash prize of ₹50,000) and 15 special mention artists. “The lit-up photo corner was thronged by many to take selfies with these artists and their works; It was truly magical where everyone could leisurely walk around and look at the works; It was an overwhelming experience for visitors, artists and their parents,” recalls Meera, who hopes to make this award an annual feature. These 22 artists will be promoted through their website and social media before the team gets ready for a new batch of artists. She adds, “Youth 4jobs (It has won the Asia Regionalist MIT Inclusion Innovation Award in the Skilling category) has made it to the list of the largest movement in south Asia for youth with disabilities. We hope Not Just Art will create the same impact for artists with disabilities.”

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    Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 1:13:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/meera-shenoy-speaks-about-her-new-initiative-not-just-art/article29953856.ece

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