Performers with disabilities shine at S'pore-Japan event

Calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa working on her second calligraphy work - de, or virtue - at Paragon Shopping Mall yesterday. The event, SJ50, was organised to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan, as well as to embrace t
Calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa working on her second calligraphy work - de, or virtue - at Paragon Shopping Mall yesterday. The event, SJ50, was organised to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Japan, as well as to embrace those with special needs.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

One minute, the woman in black was smiling and waving to the crowd at Paragon Shopping Mall. The next minute, she was a picture of concentration as she picked up a giant brush and got busy on stage.

Ms Shoko Kanazawa, 31, a calligrapher who has held exhibitions in her home country Japan and cities like New York and Paris, was in Singapore on her first visit.

The bubbly artist held the audience in rapt attention as she painted in bold two large Kanji characters - guang (light) and de (virtue).

"I want people to see that I'm very cheerful even though I have Down syndrome... I can do better than normal people," said Ms Kanazawa, who was with her mother Yasuko, 73, a calligraphy teacher.

The performance yesterday was part of the SJ50 Event organised by the Ad Planet Group to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and Japan.

"I want to draw during the three days that I am in Singapore to deliver love, dreams and cheer - to encourage people to cheer up," said Ms Kanazawa, who started taking calligraphy lessons from her mother at the age of five.

Her father died of a heart attack when she was 14.

Another performer was Singaporean pianist Azariah Tan, who suffers from bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. "Music communicates where words cannot... and it's fascinating how the notes come together to form beautiful chords, colours that evoke characters, atmospheres or modes of feelings," said Mr Tan, who has won many music scholarships and competitions.

Mr Tan, 25, who has only 15 per cent of his hearing left and will eventually lose all his hearing, played Liszt's Rigoletto Paraphrase. He said he is grateful for the support from his parents, teachers and medical staff who help him pursue his passion for music.

Mr Tan, who recently completed his doctorate in Piano Performance from the University of Michigan, now teaches and works as an assistant to his professor there. He said he wants to tell people with disabilities not to give up easily.

The performances inspired Pathlight School students at the event.

"Even though they have disabilities, they still have the resilience and compassion... to do something that they love to show to the world," said Ms Ungku Noor Shafikah, 19, a Secondary 4 student at Pathlight, which takes in students with autism.

At the event, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said inclusiveness was crucial to "create a more understanding and more empathetic and compassionate environment".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2016, with the headline 'Performers with disabilities shine at S'pore-Japan event'. Print Edition | Subscribe