THE BUZZ | ART
Defying deaf: Redefining a culture
by MARCUS BENIGNO
But for Sarah Giri, chairperson of Nepali-Indo Deaf Arts Society (NIDACS), the terms 'deaf disability' and 'hearing-impaired' are misnomers, outdated and defunct.
The patron of Deaf (capital 'D') arts and culture has been working since 2002, spreading awareness about the deaf community not as a handicapped group but as a marginalised people that espouses its own language and customs and tackles distinct struggles and social formations.
"The deaf have come a long way throughout history," Giri asserts. "Not because of, but in spite of what Helen Keller said, that blindness can separate you from things, but deafness separates you from people."
Instructing the girls in mid-dance, Giri signed as she allowed her fingers to collapse into fists only then to open and freeze in momentary forms. Instantly, the dancers took heed, adjusted their footing and continued to cha-cha across the floor. The two girls performed remarkably in sync despite the absent beats.
As I gathered from their gestures in between sets, Dahal and Prajapati critiqued their routine. I watched as their hands danced within the quadrangular space above their diaphragms and their faces expressed intelligible emotion. It is not that I had never seen a person sign before. But I had never felt so speechless (in its most literal sense). All my hands could muster were a few broken letters that I had learned in primary school: "I-A-M-M-A-R-C-U-S," and I am illiterate in Deaf.
Their performance compliments the NIDACS exhibition on Deaf art and culture, with which Giri identifies whole-heartedly. Giri, a hearing person herself, started her Deaf education in 2002 in Bangalore. And ever since, she has become fluent in sign and has facilitated workshops on dance and art for the deaf in South Asia.
"So many of my deaf friends in India are successful professionals as architects, web designers and accountants. We haven't reached that level in Nepal. But it's important to dream and work and remember, " she says.
In "Also Sun Flowers!" by Deaf artist Rasmi Amatya, eyes superimposed on sunflowers gaze at the life-giving sun, representing the beauty present in the voiceless journeys of both the deaf and the sunflower.
Likewise, Deaf artist Anirban Das Gupta's painting "Eyes Empowered" magnifies the all-seeing eye and conveys the life channel of the deaf. Giri captions piece: "It's an eye that hears, absorbing messages unheard, unsaid."
Eyes Empowered Part II, NIDACS 2nd Annual Exhibition on Deaf Art, Summit Hotel, 3 – 10 June