Zhan puts special needs artists in the limelight

Artwork by special needs artists on display at Zhan Art | Space in Petaling Jaya.

PETALING JAYA: George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Art is the magic mirror you make to reflect your invisible dreams in visible pictures. You use a glass mirror to see your face: you use works of art to see your soul.”

To some, art is nothing more than a simple hobby, akin to stamp-collecting and baking, which at best is used to pass the time.

For people with special needs, however, art really is one of the few means to truly express themselves, attain independence and show the world how differently they view life.

Give them a brush, paints and a blank canvas and they will give you a rare and valuable insight to exactly what it is they sometimes find hard to express in words.

Juairah Johari (in beige) at a Gold event in Publika, Kuala Lumpur. (Facebook pic)

That is why Zhan Art | Space in Jaya One is welcoming the public to view the artworks of young adults with special needs.

In a collaborative effort with Generating Opportunities for Learning Disabilities or GOLD, a social enterprise and NGO, the gallery is hosting an exhibition called “Kindness is Easy”, featuring 30 art pieces painted by 15 young adults with special needs.

The exhibition which runs from Sept 18 to Oct 6, is inspired by the association’s “Kindness Cookies” ideology which strives to empower these special needs adults to live on independently and productively.

In addition, Zhan has also been appointed as the authorised art dealer of GOLD.

In a statement, Juairiah Johari, founder of GOLD, said that with the collaboration with Zhan Art, “these young adults are provided with the right opportunity and platform to showcase their talent and resilience in life through art.”

Abdul Azmeen Abdul Wahid, 23, and Foong Kok Xuan, 28, pointing out their respective artworks.

A long-time educator with some 30 years of service, Juairiah has worked with about a thousand individuals with special needs so far.

Calling them her “children”, she told FMT that her staff merely provide the art supplies for art lessons, and step aside as her students get to work, drawing whatever comes to mind or experimenting with colours of their choice.

With a laugh, she says that her students get so excited sometimes about their arts and crafts projects that it can be quite a job keeping them calm enough to settle down and work on their pieces.

She said that in addition to being a means to express themselves, art is a window into their minds as they see the world radically different from other people.

Homing Pigeon (2019) by Foong Kok Xuan.

Co-founder of Zhan, Tong Gin Chee agreed, adding that art also served as an outlet for these young adults’ emotions.

Tong has long been inspired by Juairiah and GOLD’s work, having known her for nearly six to eight years since her time working with the Sunway Group.

“Their main source of work is actually baking and I’ve been buying their cookies for many, many years,” she says. However, a visit to their centre left her in awe of the artists’ creativity.

“When I visited them at the centre, and saw the young adults drawing, I found myself very impressed by their usage of colours.”

So when she and her brother, Desmond Tong, opened Zhan 10 months ago, she immediately thought of the artworks produced at GOLD and proposed collaborating with Juairiah.

The students of GOLD have now been given a platform to showcase their talent to members of the public, whom Tong notes have been positive and impressed that these beautiful pieces are painted by individuals with special needs.

I Like Green Flowers (2019) by Abdul Azmeen Abdul Wahid.

“We want to give opportunities to young adults; not just to display art, but…what we would love to do is to work with fashion designers who are happy to take some of the artworks to put on prints, fabrics. That is the dream.”

The artworks of Juairiah’s children have since found permanent homes on the walls of several corporate boardrooms and government offices.

FMT had the opportunity to meet a pair of these special needs artists, namely Abdul Azmeen Abdul Wahid, 23, and Foong Kok Xuan, 28.

Both are drawn to natural sceneries, and their artwork clearly reflects this particular affinity with nature.

“I draw what I like,” said Foong simply, whose works of nature and sceneries have been used to decorate the walls of a minister’s office.

As for the younger Azmen, who started painting at 10 years old, he says, “Art is simply what I do best.”

The way her “children” see the colours of the world is simply unique, says a beaming Juairiah.

“Members of the public may just think that these are just kids with learning disabilities, but really, they have a beautiful thing inside of them.”