Living with a disability in various parts of the world often comes with its own challenges and difficulties. The main issue that the majority experience is societal attitudes, which almost exclude you from living an ordinary life. But what happens when you are not just fighting social prejudice, but also confronting physical and environmental barriers?
This is precisely the battle that Mohamed Dalo from Gaza, Palestine, has been fighting since birth when he was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. For him, almost every aspect of daily life is a struggle for survival and progression.
From a very young age Dalo was encouraged by his parents and, specifically his father, to integrate fully. The lack of special needs schools made the decision a more natural one, and so he attended mainstream school and mixed with people of various abilities. This consequently made Dalo more confident as people close to him gradually accepted his disability. He became at ease with being ‘different’ from others.
Disability in Palestine
But this didn’t make the overall challenges he and other disabled people in Palestine face any easier. The fact that Gaza has yet to acknowledge and implement the United Nation international convention for people with disability, decreases the chance for personal development if you are an individual living with disability. People are therefore often stuck, unable to progress.
According to research by Medical Aid For Palestinian, over 87% of Palestinians with a disability are unemployed, and one third of them will never be able to get married. Over one-third of Palestinians with a disability have never been to school, whilst many do not use public transport as it is not adapted sufficiently. It is these practical barriers that make living with a disability extremely hard in Palestine. Yet Dalo has not let these obstacles deter him from pursuing his dream of becoming an artist.
Art knows no barriers
Ever since he was a toddler art has been a hobby that has grown into a passion. When Dalo’s health deteriorated and he could no longer endure the long and tiring school days, he still carried on creating art. His health sadly meant he had no choice but to leave education, just before he had the chance to complete his baccalaureate exams, the equivalent of British A Level. But this spurred Dalo on to embark on a solitary journey to achieve his dream of making a career from art.
Dalo recalls that the first person to discover his artistic talent was his middle school teacher, who encouraged him to work to pursue his talent. But back then Dalo was not as convinced of his ability as an artist. Yet when life dealt him the hard blow of discontinuing his secondary education, he knew he needed to take a chance.
Developing his art
Dalo turned to the world of the internet and social media to learn and develop his artistic skills. Through his constant research and networking Dalo discovered his real passion lay with Anime art – Japanese animated productions featuring hand-drawn or computer animation. From there he continued to develop and learn in his solitary surroundings.
Gradually Dalo began showing his work to others; initially on social media then to friends and family. He has recently had his work exhibited at two local events in Gaza, one of which was the ‘Renewing Contribution’ festival at Gaza’s College. Soon afterwards Dalo attracted Arabic media attention. Palestinian, Iraqi and Jordanian newspapers and TV channels all vied to interview him to show him as a positive image of succeeding against all odds.
Anime, unlike other forms of art, is not restricted by rules or guidelines. It has no boundaries. Whatever your imagination leads you to draw is accepted. You don’t need to adhere to a specific shaping or general appearance of the drawing. In Dalo’s opinion, what distinguishes Anime from other types of visual art is the freedom to use an eraser when mistake is made. Dalo also says that Anime is the most accessible form of art for a person living with disability in a quite isolating environment. He points out: “I only have my A4 drawing pad and pencils to enable me to live out my dream.”
When asked to name his favourite artists, Dalo said the ones that influenced him are Picasso, Da Vinci and Japanese Anime artists Naoki Tate and Masashi Kishimoto. Dalo’s fascination with Anime art stems from his love for minor and critical details and the freedom that this particular art offers.
The future for disabled people in Palestine
Disabled people in Palestine are largely marginalised and isolated. Many live without the appropriate equipment to assist them, or specialist professionals or doctors for advice or help. There aren’t many disability-friendly adaptions to help people live their life to the full. For example, people with a hearing impairment have no access to university education and some university degrees are impossible for the visually impaired. And until now, there were no facilities to integrate people with disabilities into education.
Despite all these issues, Dalo is still hopeful of better times ahead for Gaza, and him personally. He said: “I want to leave a mark on the world of art, to travel and see what art is out there, especially Anime. I want to open my own exhibition, where people from all over the globe can come and view my work. I want to improve my skills by interacting with and meeting artists and academics, who may help me to nurture this talent via further studies.”
In reality this is quite a task without funding, facilitates or sponsorship combined. And with the degenerative nature of Muscular Dystrophy, Dalo’s dream may take a while to become a reality. But something in his determination gives the notion that it is not impossible to achieve. After all, Dalo is not the first artist with a disability either – many have become well-known visual artists who have worked professionally, despite the challenges of disability.
The final question I put to Dalo was what advice would he give to other people living with disability in general but particularly in Palestine. His reply was simple: “Don’t hide or suppress your talent. Nothing is impossible, so be proud of who you are and what you contribute to society. People with disabilities have a vital role to play in shaping the world and influencing the attitude and perception others have of disability.”
Twitter : https://twitter.com/DaloDalout
By Raya AlJadir