Two-week art festival showcases works, performances by artists and musicians with disabilities

Artist Genine Tham with her mother at the Shaping Hearts 2021 Festival in Our Tampines Hub on Nov 13, 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Teenager Genine Tham did not speak much, but would tear pieces of tape and stick them neatly on mahjong paper during her therapy sessions.

Staff at the performing arts centre for students with special needs where she was undergoing therapy sensed that she may have a knack for art, from this unlikely beginning.

Ms Tham, 19, was referred by the centre, Extra.Ordinary People, to art therapy in 2019.

She started off printing letters and numbers on mahjong paper. A few sessions in, she was using her hands to spread paint and colours over large pieces of canvas and plywood, while seated on the floor.

To date, she has created a number of abstract and landscape pieces using finger printing, brush strokes and even her toes.

On Saturday (Nov 13), five of her abstract paintings were among more than 100 works of art displayed at an exhibition in Our Tampines Hub, as part of an art festival that showcases the work of more than 150 artists and performers with physical disabilities and special needs.

The Shaping Hearts 2021 festival also features performances by musicians and dancers with special needs, and an online store for the public to buy works of art. It also has some virtual components.

The two-week festival follows similar inclusive art exhibitions and programmes that were held in 2019 and 2020. This year's event was expanded to involve the performing arts, and more social service agencies such as the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore, AWWA School, and their beneficiaries.

Shaping Hearts was created to enhance the holistic development of people with special needs and disabilities through the arts, and support their employment opportunities with their talent, said the North East Community Development Council (CDC), which organised the festival.

North East District Mayor Desmond Choo, who launched the event on Saturday, acknowledged that employment for people with disabilities and special needs has always been a challenge.

He also noted that artists and musicians in the special needs community were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"When the country sought to slow the spread of Covid-19, art therapy sessions were curtailed significantly. The artists' routines were disrupted. They could not practise as frequently. This affected their recovery and mental well-being."

More than 100 works of art are displayed at an exhibition in Our Tampines Hub, as part of the Shaping Hearts 2021 festival. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat was also at the event as the guest of honour.

Jazz and classical pianist Joshua German, who has autism, had just received his busking licence early last year, and was looking forward to performing at Paya Lebar Square. But the circuit breaker derailed his plans.

"His piano lessons outside were stopped, and there were hardly any performances out there for him. He was bored at home," said Madam Carol Ong, 73, Mr German's grandmother.

The 25-year-old auditioned last month to renew his busking licence, which recently expired.

Jazz and classical pianist Joshua German performing at the launch event for the Shaping Hearts 2021 Festival on Nov 13, 2021. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

He is looking forward to performing soon, and busking will also provide some income for him, said Madam Ong. Mr German - who is also a Goh Chok Tong Enable Awards recipient - performed at the festival's launch event on Saturday.

Ms Tham's five pieces on display include a 2.4m by 60cm canvas painting depicting the deep ocean, one of her signature work of art. She used her fingers to paint small horizontal strokes that resembles fishes against a colourful background that looks like reefs. She stamped layers of colours onto the canvas using her hands, feet and knees.

She completed the ocean painting within two hours, said her mother, Ms Joysline Kwan.

Previously, Ms Tham's paintings were showcased at two solo exhibitions, with the more recent one in September at a cafe in Chinatown.

Ms Kwan, who is in her 50s and works part-time as an administrative staff member, said: "In Genine's eighth session, Lama (the art therapist) told me my daughter has talent. And that Genine is going to have an exhibition. I was surprised to hear that, that my daughter is going to have an exhibition one day. It was also hope given to me."

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