See the dreams of the visually impaired

An installation by Dallon Au, who aspires to be a motivational speaker.
An installation by Dallon Au, who aspires to be a motivational speaker. PHOTO: LIM YONG TECK FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Students showcase their aspirations in exhibition Unseen: Constellations

It was at a creative workshop held in 2014 that they first met and dreamt of the unknown together.

Artist Alecia Neo, whose practice includes exploring sight and sightlessness in society, was leading the workshop for a group of visually impaired students from Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School.

When asked to role-play what they thought their lives would be like in the future, the students saw themselves in various vocations - soldier, motivational speaker and musical theatre performer.

Their dreams have since taken shape in a newly opened exhibition, Unseen: Constellations, at Objectifs, a centre for photography and film in Middle Road.

Seven tents are set up in the gallery, each by a student, to provide visitors an immersive space to share their hopes and see their dreams from their point of view.

  • VIEW IT / UNSEEN: CONSTELLATIONS

  • WHERE: Objectifs, 155 Middle Road

    WHEN: Till April 17, noon to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday), noon to 4pm (Sunday), closed on Monday

    ADMISSION: Free

The installation by 17-year-old Neo Kah Wee, who has partial sight, includes a mini obstacle course and a short film about a soldier which he wrote and acted in.

He says: "It doesn't mean that someone with disabilities cannot serve national service. To do what every Singaporean man does would be my greatest dream come true."

In another installation, three short, coming-of-age films on the themes of love, freedom and danger by student Claire Teo, 17, are screened. Her dream is to become a musical theatre performer and she wrote and acted in the films.

"I want to believe I'll never let my eyes hinder me," she says. But being born with a retinal disorder that affects her vision in multiple ways, including night blindness, it is difficult for her to move on stage in a dark theatre or performance hall.

Still, this has not stopped her from performing in school choirs or acting in school plays. She finds her way around the stage by counting her footsteps.

Her resolve to perform professionally has only grown stronger as she worked on this project over the last two years with siblings Sharda and Sean Harrison of the non-profit Pink Gajah Theatre. As mentors, they helped her refine her ideas for the films.

"I see this as a stepping stone, bringing me closer to my dream," says the student, who graduated from Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School last year and now attends Millennia Institute.

It was unclear at the start, however, if the workshop led by Neo, 29, would lead to something more. Her starting point was simply to deepen her understanding of people with visual impairment.

She says: "If there was low interest from the students, we wouldn't have paired them with mentors (from their dream vocations), or even have an exhibition."

But the students' warm response to the role-playing activity made her think: Perhaps dreaming together is one way to challenge perceived differences and divisions between people with normal and impaired sight.

This exhibition is part of Neo's ongoing series Unseen, a body of work she began in 2012 when she collaborated with the blind and sight impaired at the Eden Social Welfare Foundation in Taiwan.

The new collaboration was conceived as a way to challenge people's views of disability, but its focus has since evolved as the artist, students and their mentors worked on the project.

"Right now, it looks at aspirations and desires," says Neo. "But there is a lot more to peel back. After this show, I want to look more critically at the process and the complex human relationships that grew out of it."

Musician Sarah Ismail, 32, who fronts indie-folk band Seyra, says the bond she shared with her mentee Adelyn Koh, an accomplished pianist who aspires to be a singer-songwriter, grew to be more than a teacher-student relationship.

She says: "At the start, when I went to Adelyn's home and we jammed together, it felt like we were having tuition. But as I got to know her, her family and her friends, she began sharing her problems with me and I'd console her and help her channel her feelings into song-writing."

For student Dallon Au, who aspires to be a motivational speaker, the two-year-long project forced him to practise what he preached.

The 15-year-old, who has only 30 per cent vision in his left eye, says: "There were a few times when I felt I wanted to give up on the project because of arguments with friends or my poor school grades. I thought: If I can't inspire myself, how can I motivate others?"

But friends in this project cheered him on and urged him not to give up. He says: "They motivated me and taught me to be confident in pursuing my dreams."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'See the dreams of the visually impaired'. Print Edition | Subscribe