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Deaf art sends loud message

Exhibition against stereotypes, marginalisation

| Dominic Muwanguzi | The view that disability is inability is nowhere more entrenched than in the contemporary arts.

Reference can be made to a famous sculpture by the late Prof. Pilkington Ssengendo titled `Maskini’ (1962) that depicted a Person with Disabilities (PWD) and evoked debate on stereotyping them. The sculpture molded out of clay depicts a contorted human figure battered by disability. The artist appeared, like many people, to subscribe to the narrative that disability is a synonym for dependence.

A recent exhibition at Makerere Art Gallery sought to debunk that. Staged under the theme of ‘Disability is not a synonym for Dependence’, it aggressively pushes for inclusion of the PWDs in the contemporary arts. On show were works done by this marginalised group with the aim of re-emphasizing their contribution to society. Also on display were artworks by other facilitators and researchers on the topic of inability versus ability.

It featured renowned big names like Dr. Angelo Kakande; who wrote a short text on the subject, and Dr. Amanda Tumusiime who had an installation.

Illustrations, fabrics, paintings, functional objects and installations highlighted the creative ability of the group and created awareness on, especially, sign language- the language used in communicating with the deaf.

The functional or utilitarian objects like ear-rings, key-holders, buttons and cookies designed in different sign language symbols invited dialogue on the need to reverse the prejudices attached to the deaf in a conservative setting, while creating awareness and respect for their mode of communication.

Dr. Amanda Tumusiime’s garment installation titled ‘The deaf garment of activism’ comprising of a heavily decorated dress with activism statements stitched on it, marching stylish shoes and hand-bag conveys the message of `ableism’ for the handicapped instead of the incompetence stereotype peddled by many.

“I observed during my time with them that these are normal people and share the same capabilities with us but society has decided to sideline them because of their inability,” she says.

Conversely, the exhibit is an avenue to include the PWDs in the school program. This is in response to the project of community involvement that the college (CEDAT) has undertaken.

With local statistics of the deaf estimated at above one million, it is high time that they are involved in every aspects of life.

One approach to their inclusion is the arts and culture one since these disciplines contribute to the political-social and economic expression of individuals, and enhances opportunities of all human beings, framed within a rights-based approach and respect for diversity.

Such an exhibit, birthed as a result of an experimental project, provides equal opportunities for the sidelined to express themselves freely and opens up the door for further creative prospects.

The exhibition was organised belatedly as part of the International Awareness Week of the Deaf (IDAW) that took place from 21 to 26 August. The exhibit was organised in partnership with CEDAT, Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Art, Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) and SiSi Foundation.

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