A popular art studio for people with disabilities in Dubai’s Bastakiya area has closed because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mawaheb – Arabic for talent – would have celebrated its 10th anniversary this month.
In a Facebook post, Wemmy de Maaker, the non-profit art studio's director, said it was the toughest decision she has had to take.
“We really want to reach out to the community and corporate businesses to keep supporting people of determination," she told The National.
"We hope they continue to integrate and include them, whether in a motivational talk, art exhibitions or a job.
"It has been 10 remarkable years. People of determination are members of the mainstream and should be treated equally. Let people please not forget them. Work can still be commissioned from the artists even though Mawaheb is not there.
"We are grateful to have brought awareness about the equality and talent of people of determination.”
The heartbreak of artists with disabilities and their families was mixed with pride in the strides they have made.
They said the studio changed their lives by teaching them not only art techniques but also life skills.
“I have learnt to always go after my dreams, how to be social and be happy for what I have got,” said Asma Baker, 31, an Emirati student who is autistic.
“We will always be together no matter what. We can always talk to each other and communicate even if we are not at one place.”
The students forged friendships outside the studio by
going to the cinema and lunch meetings. They have stayed in touch with Zoom calls during the pandemic.
Hundreds of well-wishers took to social media to acknowledge the efforts of the studio.
“It came as a surprise and it’s sometimes hard to accept, but we are going to stay positive because I don’t believe this is the end for us,” said Sharan Budhrani, a student who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
“We will keep talking on Zoom calls to remember the good memories. Who knows when, some time in the future, another door may open and give us another chance to create? We can only keep hoping.”
For the students, Mawaheb was much more than a studio because it encouraged them to be independent and interact with visitors in a small cafe that was set up on the premises.
Yoga classes were organised in the colourful courtyard filled with large canvasses and workshops were held on the importance of communication.
Emirati artist Abdullah Lutfi and others held solo exhibitions.
His distinctive work with permanent markers on canvas is currently on view at the Cuadro Gallery in DIFC.
His quirky sketches on life in the Emirates are being imprinted on caps and has generated interest on Instagram.
Abdullah’s mother Amal Yousuf Baker said people were constantly ordering hats from his collection.
She said the family would work doubly hard to engage and challenge her son, who has autism.
"The news broke our heart but Mawaheb helped Abdullah reach such a high level as an artist and we need to continue this," she said. "We will try to keep boosting Abdullah with ideas so that he posts his creations on Instagram."
Music, dancing and singing while they worked were as important to art teacher Gulshan Kavarana as sessions on mosaic and sculpture.
“It was a place of creativity where each artist brought in a unique energy,” she said.
“Once they started believing in themselves, that is when the magic happened.”
A buddy programme has been set up so the artists and volunteers can remain in contact.
Work is under way for one more group exhibition of the artists’ paintings.
Those interested in information about Mawaheb's art and products can email at email@example.com