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Vietnamese man transforms deaf children into artists, gives them self-esteem

Monday, December 17, 2018, 21:50 GMT+7
Vietnamese man transforms deaf children into artists, gives them self-esteem
Van Y teaches painting to a student at his class for children with hearing and speech disabilities in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A Vietnamese artist has voluntarily run a class that turns children with hearing and speech disabilities into recognized artists who can make a living with their own creativity and improve their sense of self-worth.

Over 20 such children, recently recognized as ‘disabled artists’ by the Ho Chi Minh City Society of Fine Arts, are now able to make money by selling their paintings and believe they are useful people.

They have been trained for two years by Saigon-based artist Van Y in a special class at 776 Nguyen Kiem in the metropolis’ Phu Nhuan District, where the group he leads, Mekong Art Club, is located.

The class is so crowded on Sundays that students sit in rows stretching from the inside of a 50-square-meter building to the alley sidewalk.

The students draw paintings in silence, at times communicating with each other by sign language and handwriting.

Life-changing encounter

Van Y first met the students by chance while they were busking at a public park in the city.    

Looking at their smart, radiant faces, he asked in sign language whether they liked painting and received a positive answer.

Y then persuaded other members of his club – Mekong Art Club – to open a free art class for the children.

He was initially shocked to find that they threw order and cleanliness out of the window by strewing paint and tools all across the floor.

They also showed stubbornness and an annoying lack of discipline, engaging each other in physical fighting not amenable to being stamped out.

But Y later tried to keep himself calm as he realized that the antisocial behavior was just a manifestation of their long repressed sense of inferiority and accumulative stress that had not found a suitable outlet.

Unfettering instructional approach

Y said he did not force the children to follow basic steps in learning painting but instead only let them play with colors and brushes in their own way.

“Paint anything that comes up in your mind and anything that you like or want,” he told them.

“Very strange and unique paintings took shape in that way.”

 The children all have their distinctive painting style and representations.

The artist said he knew how to tap into their potential for creativity by combining his understanding of the mind of deaf-mute people with techniques in his profession.

More than twenty of the children are considered to possess outstanding talent, have developed greater awareness of discipline and are becoming more confident in social integration.

A child from Van Y’s class holds her painting, bought by Tal Ben Shlomo, a Jewish painting collector standing beside her. He describes her as a talent in painting. Photo: Tuoi Tre
A child from Van Y’s class holds her painting, bought by Tal Ben Shlomo, a Jewish painting collector standing beside her. He describes her as a talent in painting. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Extend reach to other unfortunate people

Y and other club members tried to have the children’s works sold by displaying the best items at exhibitions and public events.

The proceeds turned out to be larger than what the children would otherwise get by hired labor and street performance.

Y and the students all agree that the creators receive 50 percent of the money while another 25 percent is spent on regenerating their creativity and the remaining for charity purposes.

Y faced a fierce opposition to the last division from the children, who believed they should get support from the community, rather than the other way round.

“At that time I explained to them why they need to help other people who live in more difficult situations. I also told them real-life plights of the blind. They later agreed,” Y said.

The artist advised his students against trying to beg for sympathy and money from the public as they used to do.   

He said as maintaining the class is costly, only he and other member of Mekong Art Club are working with the children now.

The two artists can continue with the class as their families are not cash-strapped and several friends have been willing to make donations.

“It’s strange that ever since I started managing the class, my paintings have been sold in greater numbers. That gives me more money to support the children,” Y said.

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Thai Xuan / Tuoi Tre News

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