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Our art brightened up a centre for disabled people

by Aakanksha, Year 12 of  Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong

Students created public art to brighten lives.

Our art brightened up a centre for disabled people

An email entitled ‘Creative CAS Opportunity,’ was sent out to all Year 12 students, but it was more than just an ordinary email, it was the beginning of a journey that several amateur artists (and two professional ones), would take during the next few weeks.

It is quite rare that a government building in China would have a mural painted on their walls. So when Joseph Lu informed The Junior School Art teacher at Dulwich College Shanghai about the project, we immediately rose to the challenge. Joseph himself is disabled but this doesn’t affect his enthusiastic personality. He is kind and independent - an inspiration to anybody who interacts with him. We were all so amazed when we heard his life story, and thought how wonderfully brave he is.

We all met for the first time to discuss our ideas for the mural. We embarked on our creative voyage, and decided to paint a Chinese junk on the large main wall. This would allow the ethos of the centre to be written along each of the sail partitions.

Along the corridor, we would paint scenes of objects transforming into other things, hoping to relay the message of motivation: we can transform into anything we imagine ourselves to be. A beautiful tree with birds perched upon it was painted along one side, and a village scene along the other. We hoped to create an ethos of self-worth, respect and independence, with an overall positive theme.

China has recently become more open-minded towards disabled people, since the Deputy Prime Minister’s son was injured and left paraplegic. As there were no facilities to meet his needs, it heightened the government’s awareness.  Our mural was inspired by the centre’s motto, the giving of hope, growth and independence. After the Federation approved our collaborative sketches, we set out to work.

The name of the centre is Yang Guang Jia Yuan (Disabled Persons Federation). It has a very uplifting and encouraging motto, which is designed to lift the spirits and give patrons hope. At the entrance to the building, there are welcoming inspirational Chinese characters across the glass doors. These include: ‘zi zun’: self-esteem or self respect; ‘zi xin’: confidence; ‘zi qiang’: to be strong; ‘zi li’: to stand on one’s own feet and ‘wo xiang xin’: I believe in you.

A condition put forth by the federation was that there could be no eyes on animals or people and the colours used on the mural had to be soft. Despite this, it was a pleasure to use such vibrant and vivid, yet calm colours on the mural. On the first day, we sketched the mural onto the wall using chalk, which wasn’t as easy as we had expected. We started on a small scale, by just painting a stream of water along the long corridor, but eventually, we painted an entire sea!

As we finished the day’s work, we couldn’t wait for the next week so that we could continue to paint! Week after week, we painted and didn’t realise the progress we were making, until the six-week project was over.

This opportunity taught us many things, including improving our application of paint and learning to collaborate with others during the process. I am still astounded by the fact that the huge mural we painted was initially inspired by little sketches! Our collaborative efforts have resulted in a very beautiful mural, which will welcome visitors to the centre.

We also learned some of the difficulties that disabled people have to face, which provided us with a deeper understanding. Most people sympathise with the disabled but don’t know how to interact with them. We now know that disabled people should not be singled out in a society but incorporated into it, just like any other individuals.