Learn­ing through art

Learn­ing is a two-way process for art teach­ers who nur­ture cre­ativ­ity in the learn­ing dis­abled.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - Star2@thes­tar.com.my By PANG HIN YUE

ARTIST Tan See Ling loves multi-task­ing for a cause. She wel­comes stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties to her cosy Thumb Art Stu­dio in Ta­man Segar Per­dana, Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, and seeks to change pub­lic mind­set about peo­ple with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

In­spired by the movie, Eat, Love, Pray, in which the main char­ac­ter, El­iz­a­beth Gil­bert, gets her friends to chip in to help a sin­gle mother to build a home, Tan cre­ated Tutti Art Club re­cently. Tutti, she ex­plains, is an Ital­ian word which means “all to­gether”.

Like Gil­bert, she wants to cre­ate a “home” to pro­mote the art­work of the learn­ing dis­abled and is invit­ing fel­low art teach­ers, artists and par­ents with spe­cial needs chil­dren to come on board.

“The club wel­comes all spe­cial artists. If artists and par­ents join forces, to­gether we can pro­vide a great av­enue to nur­ture cre­ativ­ity by giv­ing sup­port and teach­ing aid to the learn­ing dis­abled,” says Tan.

A grad­u­ate of fine arts from Univer­siti Sains Malaysia and for­merly an in­dus­trial de­signer for the Royal Se­lan­gor Pewter and Gu­dang Da­mansara, Tan, 39, is driven by a pas­sion to ad­vance the artis­tic ex­pres­sion of the learn­ing dis­abled.

“Art is a gift to hu­man­ity that shows love and truth in a beau­ti­ful way,” says Tan.

The first thing Tan did af­ter set­ting up the club is to hold an ex­hi­bi­tion to show­case the art­works of the learn­ing dis­abled. Themed “Emerg­ing The Un­known,” the ex­hi­bi­tion is cur­rently on at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur un­til De­cem­ber.

Tan hopes that by hold­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion at an es­tab­lished venue, more mem­bers of the pub­lic will come to know of the art­work of the learn­ing dis­abled.

“Ul­ti­mately, it is about bring­ing peo­ple to­gether as a com­mu­nity and bridg­ing the di­vide be­tween the abled and dis­abled,” says Tan.

Tan started teach­ing stu­dents with spe­cial needs nine years ago. “I have so much to learn from them,” she says.

Although com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment for many learn­ing dis­abled peo­ple, Tan reck­ons she has a spe­cial con­nec­tion with them. She cites as an ex­am­ple, her stu­dent Nani Zahirra Mohd Tau­fik,13, who spon­ta­neously wrote “rain” in Chi­nese even though she is not Chi­nese-ed­u­cated.

Tan who can’t read Chi­nese, was im­pressed by what Nani, who has mild autism, wrote although at that point, she could not make head or tail of it. Soon af­ter Nani wrote the word, it rained cats and dogs. When Tan found out the mean­ing of the word, she mar­velled at her stu­dent’s acute abil­ity to sense im­pend­ing rain. “That was sur­real,” she ad­mits.

Tan fig­ures her own mood can af­fect her stu­dent’s paint­ings. “Although I keep my feel­ings in­side, some­how my stu­dents can sense when I am happy or stressed, and it shows in their paint­ings and in their be­hav­iour,” she says.

“This goes to show that peo­ple with learn-learning­ing dis­abil­i­ties are well aware of their sur­round­ings and they can feel the vibes of the peo­ple around them,” she ob­serves.

Tan high­lighted an­other case in which her stu­dent, Na­diah Su­raya Mo­ham­mad Zackir Rakesh, 11, told her that she wanted to paint a “fly­ing bird” and a hos­pi­tal.

Although Tan was puz­zled by her stu­dent’s choice, she en­cour­aged her to pro­ceed. And as it turned out, Na­diah, who has autism, painted the Gle­nea­gles Hos­pi­tal in Am­pang, Kuala Lumpur.

Tan reck­ons the “fly­ing bird” refers to Gle­nea­gles. “You can’t help but mar­vel at the way some of the learn­ing dis­abled per­ceive things,” says Tan.

Tan’s com­mit­ment has taken her a step fur­ther. She has en­rolled for a diploma in learn-learn- ing dis­abled man­age­ment. “I am learn­ing to find ways to un­der­stand the learn­ing dis­abled bet­ter,”bet­ter,” en­thuses Tan.

Tan is not alone. An­other artist who has a pas­sion for teach­ing spe­cial needs stu­dents is Wong Pey Yu. When Wong first started her art class in 2006, she did not en­vis­age that three years later, she would be de­vot­ing her time to teach­ing stu­dents with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. “There are many art schools for nor­mal stu­dents but there is hardly any for the learn­ing dis­abled,” laments Wong.

A grad­u­ate from the Malaysian In­sti­tute of Art, Wong was ap­proached by a par­ent with an autis­tic son when she started her class. She taught the stu­dent the fun­da­men­tals of etch­ing. When other par­ents came to know of her work and saw how her autis­tic stu­dent had bloomed un­der her, they, too, wanted her to teach their chil­dren.

To­day Wong has about 13 learn­ing dis­abled stu­dents. Wong painstak­ingly video­tapes each learn­ing ses­sion to chart her stu­dent’s progress and to iden­tify ar­eas to work on.

She strongly be­lieves that her stu­dents de­serve the chance to build a strong foun­da­tion like any other stu­dent in art col­lege.

“I find it very grat­i­fy­ing to teach stu­dents with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, though some may take a longer time to learn. These stu­dents need our pa­tience and un­der­stand­ing,” says Wong.

Look­ing at the works of her stu­dents, one can see the amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion on can­vas and the ma­tu­rity they dis­play as the les­son pro­gresses. Wong says she, too, is learn­ing from her stu­dents; each of them has his own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a sub­ject, and ex­presses it in an in­di­vid­ual way.

“My work with the learn­ing dis­abled is to un­earth their tal­ent and help them com­mu­ni­cate through art. The jour­ney has been very fas­ci­nat­ing so far,” Wong adds. n One Voice is a monthly col­umn which serves as a plat­form for pro­fes­sion­als, par­ents and care­providers of chil­dren with learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. Feed­back on the col­umn can be sent to onevoice4ld@gmail.com. For en­quiries of ser­vices and sup­port groups, please call Malaysian Care (03-9058 2102) or Dig­nity & Ser­vices (03-7725 5569). E-mail: onevoice 4ld@gmail.com. that evening.

A col­league has a the­ory that tech­nol­ogy is to blame for this lapse in man­ners.

The more plugged-in the young peo­ple are online, the less con­nected they are to real peo­ple.

“My neph­ews can be at a fam­ily gath­er­ing but have their faces buried in their iPads or lap­tops the whole evening,” he com­mented.

The worry that such chil­dren will grow up with­out val­ues such as re­spect and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for oth­ers is per­haps what prompted ed­u­ca­tors to im­ple­ment the changes in schools. I hope the move works. If that fails, may I sug­gest a stay at my par­ents’ “ho­tel”.

I would like to think it worked for me. – The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore/Asia News Net­work

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