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Art from the soul

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-28 14:05

Art from the soul

A group of art lovers with mental disabilities learn to paint at the class organized by artist Miao Shiming. Photos Provided to China Daily

Bao Liping, a 29-year-old autistic artist, has displayed great talent in painting colorful pictures of hands. One of her works, which shows red and yellow flowers growing out of a hand, is printed on Miao's business card.

"As an artist, it's breathtaking to see an art work with such soul. There are too many soulless works on the scene," he says.

Another autism sufferer, a 7-year-old boy, does not talk at all in the class. He often looks at the sky before painting and he paints everyday. After six months he told Miao: "Art is my life".

"One important thing is to respect the way he thinks, and then give him training. You won't be surprised to find a van Gogh here," Miao says.

An estimated 40 million people in China are mentally impaired, according to Miao, and, while WABC accepts the fact that it can't help everyone, its goal is to change people's perceptions, attitudes and behavior toward mentally challenged people.

Over the past four years, Miao has been invited to give speeches around China and abroad to introduce his organization and talk about his experiences.

The first thing he says at speeches is that mentally challenged people need to be respected and accepted by society.

"In China, it's common that 'normal' people don't want to talk with mentally challenged people. They even walk a little bit away from them because they feel scared," says Miao. "Maybe the action is unconscious but it hurts those people and their families."

When he first introduced his program to communities in Beijing, some parents refused to let their children join in because they did not want others to know they have a mentally challenged child.

To change the situation, Miao organized regular exhibitions in communities, displaying the art from mentally challenged people.

"The intention is simple - I want 'normal' people to realize that they have talented people living around them," Miao says.

At the end of 2010, he facilitated 20 people with mental disabilities to participate in a TV show on CCTV. Xiao Long, a 24-year-old man who suffers cerebral palsy and is mentally impaired, not only finished a beautiful painting but also wrote a short poem to accompany his work.

"The sense of achievement is beyond any solo exhibition I had before," says Miao.

Over the past four years, Miao's organization has been relying on subsidies from the government and companies, but he says that may change.

He has made products from students' artworks, such as T-shirts and bags, to help them receive some financial return.

The good news is that some big companies have shown some interest and are willing to buy the rights in order to make products.

Miao's goal is to have a brand for mentally challenged artists and run an art center for them, holding regular exhibitions.

"WABC is developing very fast. As more and more things come to us, everyday I remind myself of the original dream - to help the special group of people discover their talent. I don't want to make the organization into something glorious outside but empty inside," he says.


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