Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Special Needs for us all

  by Sara O'Mahony © 2013

Today my eyes have been opened! I have seen talents, abilities and creativity from people that are often categorised as having 'disabilities'.

I spent part of it participating and assisting with the Grundtvig exchange project at Crawford College, on Sullivan's Quay, Cork. The exchange was being hosted by the Mayfield Arts Group 'Cuig' (Gaelic for the number five), the group title themselves as creativity unlimited integrated group. They are five artists with disability employed as artists in residence at the arts centre in Newbury House, Mayfield.

I had already gleaned some information as to the 'goings on' for the week from Jessica Carson the coordinator and artist with the arts centre. Jessica is one of the tutors for the Arts in group facilitation course with CIT and Crawford College of Art and Design that I am currently taking part in. She took us to the Mayfield Community Arts Project on the previous Saturday and showed us some work of the artists. 

The Grundvig exchange is made up of artists from Kunstwerkplatz, Netherlands and Rocket Artists group from Brighton, UK and the Mayfield Arts Centre Group, Cork. I learned that the Mayfield Group met the artists from abroad already at a gathering in Brighton at Easter. These groups are all connected as they are special needs people participating. 

It all happened very spontaneously as I was just dropping in my overdue assignment to the college when I noticed the art work in action on the ground floor. I was immediately curious and eager to learn more art work from these experts. I was nervous with anticipation and I didn't want to barge in, I wanted to see if there was any opportunity that I could participate. I was quietly excited too at the chance I could get to learn new art techniques.

So I walked along and saw to my right the week plan pinned on the wall, this was presented on blackboard type paper and the plan for the week was all mapped out. Today's plan was for art work/portraits and etchings. 'Oh great' I thought to myself.

I reached a partitioned area and there were long narrow desks lined up in a row with people with their heads down, they all appeared to be deeply engrossed in art process taking place. Then I realised the room was very busy as a lot of visitors were arriving to see the work too. I noticed that a group of about twenty people were queued up behind me. I just took one step to the side to let them all pass and I caught a glimpse of photos being transferred to a long roll of parchment paper that span out over five tables with about ten people diligently working on this. A lovely woman right beside me jumped up and asked if I would like to join in and see the work. I said "yes, that's great, I'd love to".

She introduced herself as Angela and then nodded to Brid beside her. Then I realised she was from the Cuig group and I'd already seen her work at the previous weekend visit to the Arts Centre. Now I was really excited, I'd really enjoyed seeing the art work and it was all the more interesting yet to meet the artists themselves. 

I said "oh do you do the shoes?" and she said "oh that's Brid's work" and then I eagerly asked "so you do the holy pictures?" and Angela said "yes that's me". I exclaimed "oh great, your work is really great, I really like it". 

I asked "you do the holy pictures of Jesus and the Angels?!" and she said "yes that's me". I commented on how much we admired her work last week and especially the gold gilded pictures.  "Yes", Angela said "the gilding is dearer" and she had a sparkle in her eyes as she said this.  What I didn't know was this was the start of a beautiful "exchange" with these women and they were a group of both teachers and students.

Angela gave me a paint brush and plastic container with some acetone in it and said to start by placing the photocopy cut outs of photos taken by exchange group out and about Cork City. Then she demonstrated how to paint over it with acetone and then she showed how to imprint the pigment from the photocopy by pressing over the entire cut out and to do it a few times to get a truer image transferred onto the parchment roll.

I did exactly as she asked and she worked away beside me on hers. 'Hey Presto', I exclaimed as I pulled the photocopy print away from the parchment, the print had transferred and some parts and colours were better than others so she asked to put it back down and go over it again. I did this once more and this time when I removed the photocopy. To my amazement the colours were transferred with really lovely pastel effect. What really stood out were blue jeans that a person was wearing, these transferred really well and were a vivid blue.

We did loads more transfers and people came over and admired the work – the brighter colours were coming out brighter and softer. The darker colours however took patience and time to get the image transferred well.

At this stage the fumes from the acetone were rising around Angela and I, at the force and our enthuasim. I wanted to continue and I was having such a ball at this technique. I thought, 'I'd got it' and I thanked Angela, saying "she was a good teacher" and she shrugged and smiled in a surprised fashion. Then later I showed her how to get the bright effect like the blue jeans and she said "look you're a teacher too – so we were both teachers! Fancy that!"

At this rate our enthusiasm was soaring (maybe fuelled along by the acetone in the air around us. So people took lunch and we worked on a little longer. It wasn't till I could taste weird sensation in my mouth from the fumes that I said I need a break and a cup of tea! Angela agreed. And that tea did taste good! Angela offered some food to take for lunch and at this stage it was almost already all eaten by the group as they had lunch earlier. 

Angela and I both commented as we munched through the lunch that we had too much fumes for one day. Then I asked what they were doing tomorrow. And Angela said "oh you come along again, I need help with painting and decorating my chair". So I said "certainly" and I was even more delighted when one of the coordinators agreed. So off I went delighted with the prospect of seeing and doing more 'art in action' and creativity tomorrow.


Today I learned that the term 'people with disabilities' is not true, for people are not any way less able than any other able bodied human being. This group is made up of talented artists with great creativity and potential to inspire. It was a truly eye opening experience to be receiving as a participant in this exchange.

©2013 Sarah O'Mahony

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