The art of living with disability in Palestine
By: Raya Al-Jadir
Mon, Jun. 11, 2018
CAIRO – 11June 2018: Living with disability in various parts of the world comes with its challenges and difficulties, yet the main issue that the majority experience are societal attitudes, which almost exclude you from living an ordinary life. But what happens when you are not just fighting social prejudice, but also confronting military occupation? This is precisely the battle Mohamed Dalo from Gaza, Palestine, has been fighting since birth when he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy – the degeneration of the muscles – where every aspect of daily life is a struggle for survival and progression.
From a very young age, Dalo was encouraged by his parents, specifically his father, to integrate fully – lack of special needs schools made the decision a more natural one - so he attended a mainstream school and mixed with people with no disabilities; consequently making Dalo more confident as people gradually accepted his disability and he was at ease with being "different" from others. The fact that Gaza has yet to acknowledge and implement the United Nations’ international convention for people with disability decreases the chance for personal development if you are an individual living with disability.
According to Medical Aid for Palestinian’s research, over 87 percent of Palestinians with disabilities are unemployed, one third of which will never be able to get married. Over one third of Palestinians with disabilities have never been to school, while many do not use public transport as it is not properly adapted for people with disabilities. These practical barriers make living with a disability extremely hard. Yet, Dalo refused to have these obstacles deter him from pursuing his dream of becoming an artist.
Ever since he was a toddler, art was a hobby that grew into a passion, which knew no barriers. When Dalo’s health and condition deteriorated and he no longer could endure the long and tiring school day, he had no choice but to leave education before he had the chance to complete his baccalaureate exams and so Dalo embarked on a solitary journey to achieve his dream.
Dalo recalls that the first person to discover his artistic talent was his middle-school teacher, who encouraged him to work and pursue his talent; back then, however, Dalo was not convinced of his talent as an artist. Yet, when life hit him hard and he stopped his secondary education, Dalo turned to the world of internet and social media to learn and develop his artistic skills. Through his constant research and networking, he discovered that his real passion lay with anime – hand-drawn or computer-simulated animation originating in Japan – and so he continued to develop and learn in his solitary surrounding. Gradually, Dalo began showing his work to others, initially on social media then to friends and family. Gradually, he had his work exhibited at two local events in Gaza, one of which was Renewing Contribution festival at Gaza College.
Soon, Dalo was attracting Arabic media attention, as Palestinian, Iraqi and Jordanian newspapers and TV channels all vied to interview him, representing a positive image of “succeeding against all odds”.
Living in Gaza is a real struggle for any person, but if you are disabled, the struggle is, as a result, amplified; Palestinians have been suffering from Israeli occupation for more than 65 years, and people with disability suffer the same fate. Disabled people are largely marginalised and isolated internally as well as within their own environment without any appropriate aid equipment that could assist them, or any specialist professionals or doctors that they could seek for advice or help.
Furthermore, people with hearing impairment have no access to university education and some university degrees are impossible for the visually impaired. Until now, there are no facilities to integrate people with disability into education.
Gaza, which has been under siege for years, lacks electricity most of the time, so with a physical disability, one will have more difficulty going up a flight of stairs, as even generators are not always working due to fuel shortages. Plus, during raids, the sense of being in danger is much higher for someone with disability because mobility is lower, as it is hard to leave the house and seek shelter or move from the top floor to the basement, for instance.
However, Dalo is still hopeful of better times ahead for Gaza and him personally, saying “I want to leave a mark in the world of art, travel and see what is out there in terms of art especially anime, open my own exhibition where people from all over the globe can come and view my work, and improve my skills through interacting and meeting artists and academics who may help me to nurture this talent.” In reality, this is quite a task without funding, facilitates or sponsorship combined with the degenerative nature of Muscular Dystrophy. Dalo’s dream may take a while to become a reality but something in his determination gives the notion that it is not impossible.
Dalo is not the first artist with disability and it is from this fact that he gains his hope, following the path of well-known visual artists that have worked professionally despite the challenges of disability, such as: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Frida Kahlo, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Al Capp, John Callahan, Chuck Close, Yinka Shonibare, Ryan Gander and Kathleen Morris to name a few. However, when asked to name his favourite artists; ones that influenced his thoughts and work, Dalo chose Picasso, Da Vinci and Japanese Anime artists Naoki Tate and Masashi Kishimoto. Dalo’s fascination with Anime art stems from his love for minor and critical details and the freedom that this particular art offers.
Anime, unlike other forms of art, is not restricted by rules or guidelines and has no boundaries; wherever your imagination leads you is accepted. Simplicity is what distinguishes Anime from other forms of visual arts, according to Dalo; he acknowledges that Anime is the most accessible form of art for a person living with disability in an isolated environment; “I only have my A4 drawing pad and pencils that enable me to live my dream.”
Dalo's faith in his own talent has paid off as he opened his first solo exhibition in Gaza, entitled "Anime is my life" which coincided with his 21st birthday, making it a double celebration.
When asked about the advice he wants to give to other people living with, particularly in Palestine, he simply replied, “Don’t hide or suppress your talent; nothing is impossible. Be proud of who you are and what you contribute to society. People with disability have a vital role to play in shaping the world and influencing the attitude and perception others have toward disability.”