A teenager’s art initiative is raising money to help underprivileged kids.
Keenan D’Abreo, 17, has organised five art exhibitions raising Dh73,000 for charity. He is not only helping children in need but showcasing emerging artists, he tells Shiva Kumar Thekkepat
TThe pure white canvas set up on an easel in Abu Dhabi’s Khalidiyah Mall attracts as much attention as the 130 paintings on display. As a crowd pauses near it, wondering if it is an example of modern art, Keenan D’Abreo ambles up.
The strapping teenager hardly fits the conventional image of an artist, and the crowd watches in disbelief as he mixes paints on a palette, picks up a brush and rapidly begins painting the blank canvas with bold strokes in vivid hues. His audience presses forward, craning to see the emerging picture. An hour later Keenan steps back, his hands smeared with paint, blotches of colour adorning his denim jacket. He smiles as he surveys his work – the skyline of a modern city, Dubai perhaps, with a multicoloured background. The crowd breaks into spontaneous applause, and Keenan bows his head shyly.
‘Is it for sale?’ asks a 40-something gentleman, who has been eyeing the work. ‘Yes,’ says Keenan. ‘It’s Dh500.’ The man smiles. ‘I’ll take it,’ he says. At the end of the two-day art exhibition – the fifth he’s done so far – Keenan and his friends raise a whopping Dh34,188. All of it will go to charity.
‘I’m so happy to be doing this,’ he says. ‘It beats doing a boring geography project. And it’s going towards helping improve the life of a special needs child.’
Keenan is just 17, but he’s already a veteran fundraiser. His charity venture Artex (short for ‘art exhibition’) has raised more than Dh73,000 so far through five exhibitions. Although just in grade 12 at Delhi Public School in Dubai, his words belie his age. ‘It’s so fulfilling to raise funds for charity that benefits less-privileged people,’ he says. ‘I want to keep doing such deeds for as long as I can.’
Keenan collects paintings from students across the UAE and organises exhibitions along with his eight friends, all aged 17, without help from any organisation or
Keenan’s charity initiative began when he was 11 and he asked his father for a video console for Christmas. His dad, Justin, 44, promised to get it for him if he did a good deed for the poor first.
‘He wanted me to do a painting – as I was quite good at it – sell it and donate the funds to a charity,’ says Keenan. He created a set of eight pieces of art, which he sold to friends and relatives, and donated the Dh1,000 he collected to a charity, Friends of Cancer Patients.
Keenan got his video console, but also something far greater – a sense of purpose. ‘Since then I have been painting a lot more, and selling the paintings so I can contribute to different causes,’ says the teenager. He started volunteering for charity events, and in 2012 participated in the ‘We Care’ film festival organised by Dubai’s Al Noor Centre. The experience started him on the path of organising charity exhibitions. grown-ups. They do this to raise funds for special needs schools and charity organisations. So far, they have helped charities Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs; Senses Residential Care Home for Children with Special Needs; Friends of Cancer Patients; and Sensation Station with the funds going towards augmenting their infrastructures.
Most of these friends want to put their talents to good use, helping others.
‘Keenan asked me to join him last year,’ says Roydon Barboza.
‘It was inspiring as I got to see the special needs children, play with them and interact with them,’ he says. ‘I was so moved that I promised them that I’d help them out in some way.’
That promise got him thinking about making more money out of his paintings. What better way than to sell them at an exhibition? ‘That’s how I conceived the idea of Artex,’ says Keenan.
In September 2013, he put together his first exhibition at Ductac in Mall of the Emirates. He’d done 11 paintings, mostly landscapes and abstracts. ‘But I knew I needed more,’ he says. So he decided to reach out to other young painters across the UAE he had befriended at school competitions. Emails and phone calls to them brought in 55 paintings, so he now had a respectable 66 to exhibit.
‘Ductac charged me Dh4,500 for the venue for four days,’ he recalls. ‘One of my dad’s friend’s companies, Blue Lines Shipping, donated Dh2,000. The rest I paid from my savings and from donations of Dh50 each from a few friends.’
Keenan earned Dh8,200 from the exhibition. ‘I was disappointed,’ he grins. I’d expected at least Dh10,000! But then it was just our first…’
He donated the proceeds to Al Noor Centre as promised so the charity could buy some much-needed equipment for its students.
The exhibition proved to be a catalyst, with many more young artists volunteering to take part.
A friend, Uthara Harikumar, who is based in Abu Dhabi, got in touch after seeing the pictures of the exhibition he’d And more exhibitions were held – at the Times Square Centre in Dubai, Khalidiyah Mall and in Al Quoz. They were all a success and Artex slowly began streamlining its operations.
‘We are planning to register as a business, create a fund and use the money to help people,’ Keenan says.
His friend Roydon interjects. ‘We’re helping others but we’re also giving teenagers the chance to showcase their talent. We give them a platform other than school competitions and exhibitions. Here, you can actually get involved, do something, get your friends involved.’
Keenan agrees. ‘You make yourself useful doing something you love,’ he says. ‘What more could you ask for?’ posted on Instagram. ‘She was interested in joining us, and we both began collecting paintings for the next exhibition,’ he says.
They soon had 120 paintings for their second exhibition held at Khalidiyah Mall, Abu Dhabi in December 2013. ‘We sold almost all of them over two days,’ says Keenan. ‘We collected Dh17,200 for the Special Care Centre in Abu Dhabi.’ Union National Bank (UNB) agreed to add another Dh10,000 to this donation.
More artistic friends came on board including Pearl Lobo, Rachel Fernandes, Anuthama Mahesh, Prashant Singh, and Aiza Ahmad. Another, Sanaiya Jhaveri, doesn’t paint, but helps with coordination.
Keenan’s DAD promised to get him a video console if he did a GOOD DEED for the poor FIRST. ‘He wanted me to do a PAINTING – as I was quite good at it – sell it and DONATE THE FUNDS to a charity’
In addition to the Dh17,200 Artex raised from paintings, it persuaded UNB to donate another Dh10,000 to Abu Dhabi’s Special Care Centre