Google the words “dyslexia and art” and among the first images you will find are black and white sketches of cultural icons like John Lennon and Albert Einstein who were afflicted by dyslexia.
The sketches have been in circulation online these last few years, and tend to always figure in discussions on dyslexia.
What most people who use and re-use the illustrations in presentations and forums – among them academics and activists – may not know, however, is that the sketches are the work of Malaysian Vince Low, himself a dyslexic, and that the drawings were part of an awareness campaign here.
Low was working on the campaign – “Dyslexia Couldn’t Stop Me” – in 2013 for Persatuan Dyslexia Malaysia (PDM), when he discovered that, like artist and sculptor Pablo Picasso, also had a problem with words.
The realisation, Low mentions, caused him to put his heart and soul into attempting to generate greater awareness for dyslexia through his work.
“I always had trouble in school with studies, and looking back it was because I’m dyslexic. Thankfully, I had my father, who never gave up on me and who pushed me to finish school, and then to pursue a course and career in advertising,” says Low.
“Some of my other friends, whom I believe must have struggled with learning disabilities as well, were not so lucky,” he adds.
Dyslexia is a learning disability and affects 3% to 7% of the world’s population. It manifests itself in difficulty in reading due to issues with the brain’s language processing.
Low was among the special guests at PDM’s Art Festival 2018 on Sept 8 at National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG), which was officiated by Mohd Azizul Mohd Sohod, the head of the Education Ministry’s special education section.
“To me, these kinds of events are positive because not only do they get to show people that dyslexics are just as talented as other people, but they also allow children with dyslexia to interact with ‘normal’ people. I think that’s very important,” says Low.
PDM president and founder Sariah Amirin is in agreement, adding that events like this help build the self-esteem of children with dyslexia, many of whom struggle with traditional education.
“It allows them to feel confident with themselves. But more than that, these public events give them a feeling of being accepted by society,” says Sariah.
The association’s art festival has been held annually for over 10 years, with the last three instalments hosted at NVAG and Sariah notes that the gallery’s support has been invaluable.
“For three years in a row we’ve come back to National Visual Arts Gallery thanks to the support of everyone here. It has been very encouraging,” she says.
This year’s festival saw the participation of more than 120 dyslexic children from PDM’s 15 centres and three Dyslexia Genius centres nationwide, with students taking part in drawing and painting competitions and a host of other creative activities.
Low, for one, says he was very impressed with the work he saw on display.
“I think a lot of the children are very creative. I love the results I saw,” he concludes.