From a shy individual two years ago, who not only avoided talking but even hesitated to make eye contact with others, 29-year-old Zaid Jaffar has not only emerged as a confident and independent person, he has now become an artist. He has already created several artworks, sold most of them, and is actively engaged in social networking. Life for him has never been this good.
Much of the positive change has happened in the last two years since he joined Mawaheb for Beautiful People, an art studio for people with special needs (mawaheb means talents). “I trust myself more now,” he says. Recently he, alongwith Victor, another artist, was invited to the Netherlands to represent Mawaheb artists.
From four students two years ago, the art studio now has 18 artists, ages 16 to 48, and a waiting list. It is one of the few places in the UAE where individuals with special needs get a chance to engage in creative pursuits after finishing school. Teachers and volunteers at Mawaheb use art as a medium to help special needs people express themselves and get integrated in society, says its founder Wemmy de Maaker.
A regular day at the studio starts with a topic discussion followed by students getting engaged in painting, mosaic work and other creative activities. They also interact with tourists who drop in during their visit to the Bastakia area, where Mawaheb is located. “All our efforts are directed toward making them independent and integrating them in society whether it is through participating in events, interacting with tourists or going for excursions. We try to give them space to express themselves, and through increased interactions, we also want to convey that special needs individuals need to be accepted with love,” says Wemmy.
The studio is also helping artists who, due to limited opportunities after completion of school, had remained confined to their homes.
“Special needs individuals also need friends, bonding and need to engage in things they like to do and there are not many places here for them. We need more initiatives in this direction, like having art studios, carpentry workshops, etc. All we need is an initiative and it can change lives – for them and also for their families,” Wemmy adds.
The last two years have seen exhibitions from Mawaheb artists in DIFC, Balance Café in Oasis Centre, Wafi Mall, Le Méridian, Raffles Dubai and several other organisations.
A leading apparel company also sold more than 3,000 T-shirts that bore designs created by these artists.
When artist Ange Lawless, 25, saw someone buying the T-shirt designed by her, she said: “I wanted to shout and tell everyone that hey, it’s my design.”
There is Anjali Kakkar, 26, who remained within the four walls of her home after schooling, avoiding any interaction with others. Today she introduces herself confidently when she meets people. “I am from Mumbai, how about you?” She was the first one to come and greet us as we entered the Mawaheb premises.
Lives have definitely changed – Alex, 20, and Sharan, 22, write beautiful poetry, some of which has also been published in newspapers, while Zaid, who is quite in love with Japanese animation now, has created a Facebook page dedicated to animation.
The artists have also created corporate gifts, greeting cards and shopping bags apart from artworks adorning the walls of many homes and companies.
“The abilities of special needs individuals are often underestimated. With a little effort we can not only help them become independent, we can also bring out their talents. But we first need to accept and give them our love,” says art teacher Gulshan Kavarana.