On an exhibition of paintings by the hearing disabled

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 9 May 2004

THE artist Satish Gujral is renowned for his painting, sculpture, and architecture; in his book called a Brush with Life, he speaks of being entombed in silence after the accident that took away his hearing ability.  But Satish Gujral’s paintings are perhaps more significant for the crucial experiments that he did with Indian imagery and modernist ideas.

There is such a thing as deaf culture art called De.Via, short for Deaf View/Image Art which was the style of painters like Chuck Biard in America.  It came about at the Deaf Way arts festival at Gallaudet University, America in May, 1989. In their manifesto put up on the website http://www.deafart.org, they say:

‘De.VIA represents Deaf artists and perceptions based on their deaf experiences. It uses formal art elements with the intention of expressing innate cultural or physical Deaf experience.These experiences may include Deaf metaphors, Deaf perspectives, and Deaf insight in relationship with the environment(both the natural world and Deaf cultural environment), spiritual and everyday life.’

This manifesto also recognises that all deaf artists needn’t always speak of their impairedness. They say De.VIA is created when the artist intends to express her/his Deaf experience through visual art.

Chuck Biard, who made this style famous, said, ‘I no longer paint what people would like to see. I paint for myself. It is about my own experience, my love of ASL and pride in our Deaf heritage. I sometimes create works that have no particular relation to the Deaf’.

A search on the Internet reveals that there are many resources in the field of arts which deaf people can access although a lot of them are available abroad. In Bangalore one such initiative was held recently at the Venktappa art gallery.

The gallery was host to an exhibition of paintings by the hearing impaired organised by painter M C Ganesh and A K Umesh, who is the founding secretary of the Organisation for Art and Culture of the Deaf and Dumb,under whose banner this show was held.

The paintings were varied in theme and media, from glass to oil to acrylic and collages. Most prominent in terms of content is the art of Ganesh, which suggests that he is moving beyond themes to explore colour and style. When asked about the influences in his work, Ganesh said that his paintings were  about suffering. Others have worked on themes such as landscapes and still life.

Most of these artists have diplomas or degrees from art schools like Ken and Chitrakala Parishath or have taken exams in drawing. Rajni is an art teacher certified by Fevicryl paints and conducts art and craft classes.Jyothi does graphic design and has trained in computer aided design. R Sreedhara who likes to paint portraits in oil and watercolours is also an accomplished sportsman.Rekha Chitrakumar worked at the Canara bank for 19 years.Archana who is a sculpture student at Chitrakala Parishath has also shown some of her work here. Ganesh Shetty, Rajni, M Jyothi, K Gayathri, C Pramod, Sreedhar, and Rekha Chitrakumar are some of the other upcoming talented artists.

Umesh feels that the disabilities of these people are a serious hindrance to their access to resources. He plans to conduct a painting workshop and exhibition involving more people, and also hopes that the artists. work will find a market in companies and bank calendars etc.  It is time that we make efforts to bring out talent in people with disabilities in India. In an increasingly competitive world, we need to ask ourselves how hostile we are turning towards the physically disabled.

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