Alex Loveday wears a silver heart shaped locket and a gray thermal shirt. He forces himself to firmly shake my hand and keep his eyes fastened to mine. This is hard for him because his mind is an astonishing theatre—a gift of his Autism is the ability to watch television shows and movies then replay them at will on the big screen of his brain. Alex is one of twenty adults with special needs who spend their days creating works of art in the breezy, sunbeam filled courtyard of Mawaheb from Beautiful People, an organization that provides them with independence, community, and studio space and is located among the traditional Emirati wind towers of the Al Fahidi District.
Mawaheb’s resident artists have each created work inspired by she of the legendary unibrow, temper and unbridled talent, Frida Kahlo. They actually feel a great connection to the painter, who was bedridden at times from illness and suffered emotionally when her husband Diego Rivera cheated on her with her own sister. Like the Mexican self-portraitist, the Mawaheb artists also suffer yet choose every day to focus on what is bright, promising, and positive. The various renderings of Frida truly reflect this attitude. The brush strokes are bold, representing not only an audacious woman who refused to be defeated, but also the resilience of the Mawaheb artists’ spirits.
What they want is to be seen as artists and people, not to be pitied. They can tell when someone talks down to them in the singsong voice usually reserved for the very young. Alex asks, “for people who read this interview to understand that you should never give up on your dreams, whatever condition or injury you may have. I am Autistic but that doesn’t stop me.”
Mawaheb Founder Wemmy De Maaker clarifies that Mawaheb is not a charity: “We don’t want people to feel sorry for us. We only take as much as we can give.” The paintings are genuinely vibrant works of art and potential collectors are warmly invited to visit Showcase to bid on a sparkling mosaic up for auction on 15 January. The mosaic was a group effort by all the Mawaheb artists, who sat for hours at a long table in their studio sharing stories and adding shiny bits of glass and mirror to the broad canvas. Proceeds from the auction will directly benefit the organization. We are all special needs. Every human being lives with a disability or two or five. Some of us have special needs more physically apparent than others.
The Mawaheb from Beautiful People Frida Kahlo inspired exhibition will run at Showcase Gallery in Dubai through the end of January 2014. The auction for the mosaic will conclude on 15 January. For more information visit the Showcase website here.
Mawaheb welcomes volunteers and visitors at their studio space in Al Fahidi. To get in touch, contact them here.
Image Credits: Courtesy of Mawaheb From Beautiful People and Showcase Gallery