Not many young adults with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to put their work on display in galleries. The Art Sanctuary initiative, a social venture started in Bengaluru by the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, however, makes space for their talent.
An exhibition of their paintings, pen drawings, digital art, photographs and short films made on mobiles is underway in Delhi as part of the initiative. The four-day exhibition, which starts on October 14 at the Stir Gallery showcases 85 selected artworks by 47 artists aged between 16-42 years. Drawings of nature, abstract landscapes, wildlife, people and beautiful surroundings in vivid colours dominate the collection this year
Shalini Gupta, who started The Art Sanctuary in 2018, felt a lot of parents fail to recognise how art can make the lives of children with a cognitive disability, better. “My daughter, who loves photography and is a coder, was finishing school and I could sense she needed a creative push and support,” she says.
This is the second time the eCAPA Art Biennale of Intellectually Challenged Young Adults is being held physically after it was launched in 2019. It was moved online during the two years of COVID-19. The inaugural event in Delhi attracted 150 works and more than 50 per cent of the art works were sold but sales dipped during the pandemic.
The idea to showcase the artistic talents struck Shalini after she visited the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2018. “In the commercial art platforms, even a small 3x4 feet painting sells for lakhs. We needed to create awareness and benchmark exclusive art by the intellectually challenged,” she says.
When artworks of individuals with developmental delays were not considered on par with artists of calibre, for display in art galleries, Shalini set out to help create connections and change perceptions. “It is important to curate an insight about where the work comes from as it tends to have an impact on people,” she adds.
Shalini found friends in Bose Krishnamachari, co-founder, director and president of the Kochi Biennale Foundation and Delhi-based art gallery owner and curator Amit Gupta. With both of them willing to help for a cause, eCAPA became the country’s first professionally curated state-of-the-art show of the intellectually challenged young adults. Shalini says it is an attempt to change the lives of neurodiverse artists. “We encourage them to express themselves, promote their skills by providing practical support and have the world appreciate it without any bias.”
Twenty years ago, Shalini started a parental support group called Saath (Together). “Not much of knowledge resource was available those days and I travelled the country organising workshops to share my experiences and exchange information. It helped to build a pan-India network of parents, who now understand how desperate their children are for help by the time they turn 16,” she says.
Parents are now guiding their children into a world that was oblivious to their artistic talents. Each interested participant is allowed to send a maximum of five works which undergo a tough selection process by Bose Krishnamachari who assesses the free creative spirit of the artist, the extraordinary themes and abstract images.
The eCAPA exhibition has become a much-awaited pre-Diwali annual event. “Our end goal is social inclusivity and economic empowerment of our children and we are back with a fresh collection and new energy,” says Shalini.
(eCAPA 2022 by Neurodiverse young adults is on till October 16 at Vis A Vis/India STIR Gallery, 2 North Drive, Block-C Westend, DLF Chattarpur Farms, 10 am to 7.30 pm)