BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A painting of a boy in a wheelchair surrounded by friends and another of a child embraced by his parents are just a few of the artworks showcased at the ‘Pusat Bahagia Enabling Art Exhibition’ at the at the Tourist Information Centre’s art gallery in the capital.

The paintings by trainees from several welfare institutions — Pusat Bahagia, Pusat Eric Goh, Pusat Ehsan and Non-Governmental Organisation La Vida — will be on display until June 3 and is aimed to celebrate the works of persons with disabilities, and hopes to highlight their skills and social development.

Using canvas as a means to express herself, one of the exhibitors, 16-year-old Fiona Pauline Mongolonzo from Pusat Bahagia has suffered hearing impairment since birth.

Fiona Pauline Mongolonzo poses in front her paintings on display at the ‘Enabling Art’ exhibition on May 24 at the Tourist Information Centre’s art gallery in the capital. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

According to her mother, Jan Mongolozo, Fiona likes to take pictures of nature whenever they go on vacations. “That’s how she explores, finds ideas and put them into her work. As someone who is hard of hearing, it is quite hard for her to express what she feels inside, so this gives her a chance to say what she wants.”

Fiona is keen to follow the footsteps of her father, who pursued a career in graphic design. “It is important not to think of her disability as a wall, but to think of all the things that she can do for her to become contented and happy.. that is the most important,” Jan said.

Like Fiona’s paintings, the other exhibitors also give visitors an insight into how the students interpret the things that they see, their interests and what they want to explore.

In an interview with The Scoop, the Principle of Pusat Bahagia Nasrullah Mohammed, said the paintings centre around the trainees’ own creativity and interests, ranging from their family members, pets, places that they visited to their favourite superheroes.

Ahmad Yazid Hamir, who is autistic, poses in front of his paintings which are part of the ‘Enabling Art Exhibition’ on May 24, 2019. The 21-year-old has five paintings on display, two of which highlightsthe importance of ‘playing with friends’ and ‘togetherness’. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

The trainees are aged between 16 and 25 years old, and are diagnosed with autism and intellectual disability. The paintings are for sale and price ranges from $50 to $120 depending on the sizes and details. All proceeds from the sales will go to the trainees. A total of 18 paintings have been purchased following the opening ceremony.

“We hope that the paintings will be accepted by the public and also for them to buy the paintings. When you buy [the paintings], you are contributing to them. We don’t look at it as charity. By purchasing their works you are also giving them an opportunity for a sustainable future,” he added.

Visitors at the ‘Enabling Art Exhibiton’ reflect on the artworks created by Pusat Bahagia trainees. May 24, 2019. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

Assistant Professor of Art and Design at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at UBD Dr Rui Oliveira Lopes said more important than generating income is the improvement of their condition.

Dr Lopes, who is also UBD’s programme leader for Design and Creative Industries, said we have to be realistic in terms of expecting the students to generate income from their passions in art.

“Art therapy practices have been proven to bring benefit to patients with physical and mental disabilities. I believe that the implementation of art therapy sessions at Pusat Bahagia as well as other medical care centres can make a significant change in the patients lives as well as in the lives of their close family members. If they can turn their creativity into income that would be awesome,” he said.

The lecturer also praised the instructors at Pusat Bahagia for their efforts in bringing the trainees to see the artworks done by others which he said has a tremendous impact in their motivation to create their own paintings and drawings.

“We find some talented students… [but most] do it from passion and for themselves, without any fear or expectation. I do hope that initiatives like this can be implemented in other centres throughout the country and that art therapy can be taken as a common practice,”he added.

Admission to the gallery is free and is open from 9am to 2pm daily, except for Friday, where it is open from 9am to 12pm. Those interested to purchase a painting can also contact Pusat Bahagia at 2330315 or 8869637.