Jordan academy helps blind would-be painters

Sunday 03/07/2016
Jordanian artist Suheil Baqaeen teaches students at the Royal Academy for the Blind how to paint. (Photo by Nader Daoud)

Amman - Vincent van Gogh, the Dutch post-impressionist painter, said: “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” His words ring true for children at the Royal Academy for the Blind in Jordan.
Inaugurated by King Abdullah II and Queen Rania in 2011, the acad­emy, in the northern Amman sub­urb of Tabarbour, educates 303 stu­dents aged 6-18. The Colour Reader initiative, begun four years ago by Jordanian artist Suheil Baqaeen, attracts aspiring painters in the school.
“I had this urge through the acad­emy to work hand-in-hand with students who dream of becoming painters,” Baqaeen said.
“We started with a couple of students and I found out that they have the talent needed to make a difference. The key was working on their dreams and their will to find a place in the society.”
According to Baqaeen, the first students in the programme became interested in painting and wanted to spend most of their time at the academy painting and colouring.
Baqaeen capitalised on their strong sense of smell. For instance, the lemon scent of a pen allowed the students to know its colouring was yellow; red is distinguished by a cherry smell.
“This method helped them to ex­pand their horizon and bring their courage to the surface in selecting more colours and more combina­tions for their paintings,” Baqaeen said of the 18 scented colours pro­vided.
The students use various media and textures from acrylics to oil paints and pastels to create pieces of art based on their imaginations.
Lana Bani Musa, 11, said paint­ing has become a big part of her life because of the programme. “Paint­ing is a passion and my ray of light. That is why I decided to write a sto­ry, which I hope will inspire others,” she said.
She noted that her story, The Scent of a Colour, is about overcom­ing hardships and partly mirrors her own life.
The story focuses on a blind stu­dent who loves to paint but whose teacher does not allow him to do so because of his disability. The boy is approached by an artist who teach­es him how to paint using his senses other than sight.
Reflecting on Baqaeen’s teaching, Lana said the students were “hap­py” to be capable of differentiating between the various colours.
With a brush in one hand and paint in the other, Esra, 16, said she was excited to be doing something that made her feel a part of society. “It’s hard to describe the feeling but it’s like we’re artists with a mission to paint. I painted a garden with flowers and butterflies and they tell me it is a very pretty garden,” she said.
Asad Omari, 15, echoed Esra’s en­thusiasm.
“I never thought that I would be able to see colours and relate to them through thinking of fruit,” he said. “Now, I paint, thanks to artist Baqaeen, who is helping us step-by-step to make our dreams a reality.”
Twenty-two of Baqaeen’s stu­dents had their works displayed at the Jordan Museum May 18th in cel­ebration of World Museum day.
According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 285 mil­lion people are visually impaired. Of the total, 39 million are totally blind. Unofficial figures put the number of visually impaired people at 30,000 in Jordan.
Academy director Abdul Menum Dweiri said learning to paint was among the many opportunities available to the students.
“Students are becoming more confident regarding what they imagine and transfer their ideas through the colours into the paint­ings as today if they want to colour the sky blue then they coloured it blue without the help of anyone but their sense of smell,” he said.
“We have different departments headed by the academic section, which teaches the syllabus of the Ministry of Education in addition to the supportive sections, including a section for the partially sighted, sensual training, functional thera­py, mobility and movement, com­puter, music room and a day-to-day activities section.”