Find out how the arts can benefit those living with disabilities.
BY JOEL TAN
Published on 21 June 2016
BY JOEL TAN
People living with disabilities and the disabled tend to deal with their problems in personal and not-very-public ways.
However, around the world, the arts have become a way to, on one hand, harness the creative energies of disabled artists to create work for the wider community, and on the other, bring issues surrounding disabled communities into light.
In Singapore, several recent arts events and upcoming ones — spanning theatre to visual arts — have put the disabled at the forefront, all stirred by a mission to create a Singapore that’s more socially engaged and all-inclusive.
Home-grown theatre company Pangdemonium has made a name for itself by creating theatre that sheds light on the struggles of people living on the fringe.
Two recent productions — UK playwright Nina Raine’s Tribes and American playwright Deanna Jent’s Falling — both highlight the challenges faced by families who live with disabled persons. The former, about a neurotic family with a deaf son, sharply brings up issues that the hearing barely think of: to sign or not to sign? Falling centres around a family living with a young, severely autistic son whose unpredictable, often violent behaviour causes deep rifts in the household.
Both productions enjoyed sold-out runs and received rave reviews. Notably, in both productions, the company actively engaged with related community groups — with some performances of Tribes, for instance, conducted with live sign-language translation, and with each performance of Falling concluding with an audience talkback featuring speakers from the autism community.
Adrian Pang, Pangdemonium’s co-artistic director who also performed in Falling — a play focusing mainly on the predicament of caregivers — says that most families untouched by special needs will never have a clue about the hell these families live through day by day, what with the lack of awareness and support from friends, family and society at large.
Harnessing theatre as a space for having conversations about issues and communities that may otherwise get sidelined is a major calling for the company. In the case of Falling and Tribes, using theatre as a forum to raise questions about the roles and struggles of the disabled — especially in a society run mostly for and by the able-bodied — proved to be a good night at the theatre bundled with a bonus lesson on inclusivity.
SPECIAL EDITION Pangdemonium’s production of Falling uses theatre to examine the highs and lows of autism.
Discussing the challenges of living with disability can emphasise difficulty and hardship. But other ways of engaging the disabled through the arts focus on the expressive and creative possibilities of disabled people.
Promising Technicolor art and lots of happy children, Superhero Me, an art exhibition, is one such example. The annual festival and exhibition of art by and for children and youths presents an extra-special angle this year as it features work by students from special needs schools.
Working with students from the Lien Foundation’s Circle of Care Programme, Pathlight School, AWWA Kindle Garden, Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore School and MINDS Lee Kong Chian Gardens School, the exhibition will see work created and inspired by superheroes designed by the children themselves.
Initiated in 2014 by documentary studio Logue and design studio, In Merry Motion, Superhero Me began as a community art movement with the aim of giving less-privileged children a creative confidence boost.
This year, its organisers decided on the theme ‘Planet of Possibility’ as a way of examining the potential of those living with disabilities, rather than their limitations. Running the gamut from installations and painting to edible art, this event, powered by the Lien Foundation and the National Arts Council, runs for a month at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film.
ART FOR ALL This year’s edition of community initiative Superhero Me uses the arts to empower students with special needs.
Exhibitions like Superhero Me: Planet of Possibility ride on the ongoing work of community groups and special needs schools that run arts engagement programmes for the disabled, or use the arts as a way to empower the disabled. One such group is Very Special Arts (Singapore), a charitable organisation whose mission is to provide a platform for disabled persons to experience and make art as a way to promote social integration and rehabilitation.
Launched in 1993, the group runs exhibitions and an arts workshop for disabled persons, and also organises arts outings for its members.
For several disabled Singaporeans, the arts become not just a mode of communication and creative expression, but also count as a vocation and way to give back.
Seventeen year-old Singaporean visual artist Jean-Sebastien Choo, who is moderately autistic, paints to support himself and also to contribute to social enterprises and charities working with autism. A self-taught water colourist who “speaks in colours”, Choo’s paintings sell for S$100-S$800. A portion of sales go towards A Mother’s Wish fund, which supports families and individuals living with autism by organising activities and engagement programmess. Most recently — working together with Pangdemonium to raise awareness on autism and to promote his art — Choo held an exhibition at the KC Arts Centre in conjunction with Pangdemonium’s Falling, with some of the proceeds benefiting various autism-related organisations.
Superhero Me: Planet of Possibility is on at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film till 17 July.