Dress that's pretty as its pictures

Artists with special needs combine to design original outfit partly based on traditional Emirati clothing for fashion show catwalk.
Artists with special needs Rebecca Hayday, 19, left, from the UK and Anjali Anju, 25, from India paint the fabric to be used for the dress for a Dubai fashion school's show. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Artists with special needs Rebecca Hayday, 19, left, from the UK and Anjali Anju, 25, from India paint the fabric to be used for the dress for a Dubai fashion school's show. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

DUBAI // Colourful Bedouin tents, wind towers and the emirate's landmark buildings have been painted on to a white satin dress by a group of artists with special needs for a Dubai fashion school's show.

The 11 students used bold brushstrokes to replicate Dubai's skyline on a dress inspired by both the kimono and abaya.

The completed outfit, featuring a five-metre train and red cummerbund, will be displayed at a weekend fashion show opening on Friday at 5.30pm at the DIAC Student Hub near Heriot-Watt University in Dubai's International Academic City. The show has been organised by second-year students at the university.

"It's a great platform for these students to show what they can do," said Wemmy de Maaker, the director of Mawaheb (Talent) from Beautiful People, a studio that teaches art to special-needs students in the central Bastakiya district.

"We have some artists who are really developing their talent and we want to make sure they are recognised."

The artists, from Sharjah and Dubai, have conditions such as muscular dystrophy, learning difficulties and Down's syndrome. They began work last month blending fabric, sand and glittering mosaic tiles on 12 large canvas paintings.

These depict a red and blue-lined Bedouin tent, the Burj Al Arab streaked with yellow and purple lights, the Etisalat building cocooned within a giant purple butterfly and flowers strewn across the Burj Khalifa.

Guided by their art teacher, Gulshan Kavarana, the students then painted compact designs on to 20 pieces of cloth to be sewn on the dress's hemline, sleeves, cummerbund and train.

"They used glitter for the paintings on the dress because the tiles and sand used on the canvas are too heavy," Mrs Kavarana said. "It's a misconception that art by people with special needs is childish. This will show the world what people with disabilities are capable of."

Heriot-Watt students will also carry the original canvases down the catwalk during the fashion show, and Mawaheb will auction the dress and the canvases in September.

The idea to integrate art and fashion was thought up by teachers of both schools.

"It's absolutely stunning, the dress is a walking canvas," said Vanessa Northway, the head of Heriot-Watt's School of Textile and Design. "The work is a strong statement about Dubai because it is different things to different people."

Ten fashion school students designed the dress with a simple cut to highlight the art work. They said collaborating with special-needs students was a learning experience.

"Most people think people with special needs would just be able to do general strokes, but their work is quite amazing," said Shivani Agarwal, 20, a fashion marketing student.

"They've used bold colours and interesting silhouettes. This will show people that those with special needs can do a great amount of work."

For the special-needs art students, the dress was a means to express themselves. One painting has a couple in a khandoura and abaya seated in the desert gazing at the sun setting over Dubai's imposing structures.

"This is about Dubai. I like sand and buildings," said Zaid Jaffer, a 28-year-old Iraqi student with special needs. "Painting makes me relaxed, calm."

Sharan Budhrani, who is a wheelchair user, said painting made him happy.

"It's my passion," said Sharan, 20, who painted a wind tower for the dress. "I wanted to show people where the real Dubai is."


Published: May 18, 2011 04:00 AM


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