By Raynald C Rivera
They are limbless but not with out hope, and they are heading to Doha to spread hope and inspire others with their unflinching determination to create exceptional paintings at par with works by professional artists.
Having lost the use of their hands or, in some cases, both hands and legs, they have taken to painting with either their mouth or foot. They are Indian mouth artists Ganesh Kumar, M V Ravindran and Manjibhai L Ramani, and foot artists Manoj Bhingare and Swapna Augustine, all members of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) association.
They are flying to Doha for the first time, for the third edition of the annual Message of Hope event organised by Hope Qatar Center for children with special needs, a not-for-profit training centre providing help, opportunity, participation, and education (Hope) to children with special needs.
“These five painters from India have each faced personal tragedies in life, which they have successfully overcome by pursuing their dream to be artists,” Dr Rajeev Mathew Thomas, a founding member of Hope Qatar, told The Peninsula.
Kumar suffered from polio at age one, and two years later he started painting. A self-taught painter, the prolific 43-year old artist already has more than 6,000 paintings under his name. His extraordinary fortitude also saw him learn to read and write English without going to school.
An MFPA scholarship holder, Kumar shares his gift with others handicapped like him, including Ravindran, whose hands and legs are paralysed since childhood because of polio. This did not hinder Ravindran from pursuing painting, starting at a young age first on his own and later under the guidance of Kumar.
An accident in 1970 resulted in the amputation of Manjibhai’s arms, but the loss of his limbs did not rob him of hope. He has been involved in mouth painting since 1978, and has earned a degree in painting and fine arts focusing on natural, figurative, abstract and portrait painting. He has prominently featured in a number of exhibitions and solo shows in India and teaches fine arts to students of different ages.
It had been Bhingare’s dream to be an artist despite his handicap, so he completed a degree in fine arts and a course in computer applications, using the keyboard and mouse with his legs.
Born without arms, Augustine had learned to perform all tasks, including painting and drawing, with her feet at a young age. Her parents and teachers gave her the necessary support and encouragement to continue painting when she was still a schoolgirl.
Her paintings were widely published in students’ newsletters and youth magazines.
Being members of MFPA, whose motto is ‘Self-help, not charity’, these five messengers of hope will inspire others to overcome disability.
Founded in 1956 by polio-stricken mouth painter Erich Stegmann, MFPA was aimed at providing mouth and foot artists a sense of work security. Stegmann did not want MFPA to be regarded as a charity simply because its members were disabled. For him charity was as abhorrent a word as pity.
The association, which does not accept charitable assistance, has grown to nearly 700 members in 74 countries. The five artists coming to Qatar are members of the India chapter of MFPA, which has 16 members.
The five artists, who will be here on February 6 and 7, will participate in exhibitions and conduct workshops at HBKU Student Center and Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar in Education City. They will display their works and artistic talents and speak to students and the public about their experience of overcoming disability.
A highlight of their visit will be sessions that will see the participants attempt to create works of art or do simple tasks such as writing their name without using their hands.
An art exhibition featuring original works by MFPA members will be held at the HBKU Student Center Art Gallery from February 3 to 14. The organizers have tagged it as an exhibition that “needs to be seen to be believed.”
“The 45 paintings of a wide variety have been created with great effort and in so much detail that it would surely impress every viewer at the exhibition,” said Dr Thomas.
Workshops at the HBKU Student Center will feature live painting by the artists and opportunities to interact with them. The sessions are expected to draw sizable crowds from the corporate and business sector (on February 6 morning), and arts and crafts organisations (February 6, evening), and students (February 7, morning).
There will also be inter-school and inter-college art contests for creating works of art without using one’s hands.
Message of Hope is an annual event started in 2010 by Hope Qatar to showcasing role models and internationally acclaimed individuals who have challenged their disabilities to become a source of inspiration and courage for others.
The 2010 edition of the event featured Sujeet Desai, an internationally acclaimed youth ambassador for disabilities who has Down’s syndrome, and the 2011 event featured Nick Vujicic, a well-known motivational speaker without hands or legs.
“Compared to previous editions, Message of Hope 2013 is unique in itself because people would not just listen to be inspired but engage themselves in tasks that would make them better understand and appreciate the talent and lives of the five artists,” said Dr Thomas.
“Though they differ in some aspects, all the Message of Hope events share something in common, and that is conveying the message that given the right opportunities at the right time, and with the right attitude, persons with special needs can achieve great success in life,” he added.