The inaugural Art Includes Festival 2019 in Kuala Lumpur is on a mission to showcase disability arts and culture.

The festival, which runs at the Ruang by Think City venue on Sept 23-29, underlines the need for diversity when it comes to the social, cultural and professional development of people with disabilities.

“The Art Includes Festival 2019 is very special in so many ways. It aims to embrace a community that rarely has an arts platform to call its own. It’s the first time we’re doing something like this, with so many people from all over coming to participate. It’s really not to be missed, the invitation is for everybody to come and experience this festival,” says Stevens Chan, the man behind the Art Includes Festival 2019.

Chan, who became blind due to glaucoma, is also the founder of Dialogue In The Dark Malaysia, a social enterprise that works to increase public awareness around preventable blindness. It also supports individuals with visual impairments.

The theme of the festival is “Celebrating Diversities”, and it will be held in conjunction with the United Nation’s Global Day of Action.

Chan adds that the objective is to raise RM500,000 from the festival. The funds will be used to expand and scale up the Dialogue Includes Academy with arts and music facilities.

Art Includes Festival 2019’s line-up offers a mix of international and homegrown highlights.

American Vietnamese culinary superstar Christine Ha, who is blind, will be appearing at the festival. In 2013, Ha won the third season of the MasterChef competition, a popular TV series, and she is the proud owner of the Blind Goat restaurant in her hometown of Houston.

Nepalese dancer/choreographer Shristi K.C., who lost her eyesight at age 16, is also in the line-up. She runs Blind Rocks, an institute training the visually impaired in interpersonal skills, dance, fashion and adventure sports.

In the festival’s music programme, Dr Azariah Tan, a Singaporean almost-deaf pianist, is set to give a talk on his inspiring career. Tan suffers from bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, caused by a degenerative condition.

Lim Chia-Chien, a blind barista from Taiwan, is also slotted in to talk at the festival’s mini conference.

Patrick Teoh, a veteran radio deejay and theatre practitioneer, is among the list of homegrown speakers at the festival. He contracted polio when he was a child.

Blind photographer Jamaliah Mohd Yasin and teenager Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri (aka artjamila), an artist with autism, will be exhibiting their work.

Jamaliah was one of the highlights at the Sensory Photography – For Our New Malaysia exhibition in KL last year, while Wan Jamila was part of the Langkawi Art Biennale 2020 earlier this year and she also had a painting titled Unity in Diversity Skyline Series 3 A,B,C picked to beautify Arca Putrajaya at Putra Square in front of the Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya.

Chng Seok Tin, a visually-impaired printmaker, sculptor and multi-media artist from Singapore, is also on the exhibition list.

Networking and gathering a line-up for such a niche festival was not the easiest of tasks, admits Chan. He was fortunate, however, that he was able to do it as most of those involved already knew each other.

According to Chan, one of the main highlights of the festival is the three-day conference, taking place from Sept 23-25. It features 50 NGOs and public agencies, 100 participants from the public sector, and 100 private and public university students.

The Cuisine Dining In The Dark session will see participants dining in complete darkness, and enjoying a menu curated by Christine Ha.

Exhibitions, sensory theatre and a market space as well as workshops, including Dialogue In Silence, Dialogue Games and Dialogue In The Dark, add to the programme.

“There will also be an open-air street fiesta, with music, dance, singing and more, performed by both disabled and abled artists, in a historic inclusive performance,” says Chan about the festival’s street party scheduled on Sept 28 at the market square near the Ruang by Think City building.


Art Includes Festival 2019 will take place at Ruang by Think City (No. 2, Jalan Hang Kasturi) and the Market Squares in Kuala Lumpur. More info: art.includes.my.