Differently-abled artists render colours of freedom

Recently, some differently-abled artists designed posters for the National Geographic documentary, ‘The Great Indian Election’

She cannot walk. Her hands do not move. That does not mean she cannot do anything. Wheelchair-bound Sunitha Thrippanikkara makes everyone around proud with her work.

The 36-year-old Sunitha is a mouth painter. In 2017, she bagged the National Award for mouth painting from President Ram Nath Kovind. Now she is one out of few differently-abled artists who have designed posters for the National Geographic documentary, 'The Great Indian Election'.

The posters define the symbol of freedom. Sunitha's piece depicts freedom through her painting of a girl sitting on the globe of democracy.

According to Sunitha, through her effort she has tried to portray her dreams and emotions.

"Painting is my passion. I live my dreams through my paintings. Things which I can't do practically, I try to put them on my canvas. These water colours add light to my life," she said.

Sunitha was born with muscular dystrophy and gradually her body lost all strength. Later, she became unable to use her limbs. However, she never let her disability come in her way to success.

"I have been painting since childhood. Earlier, I used to paint with my hands but owing to weakness, my hands stopped functioning and I had to stop painting. When I got to know that I can't paint anymore, I was disappointed. I was upset because painting is my life. Then I met mouth artist Ganesh Kumar and saw him painting with his mouth. It inspired me and made me believe that nothing is impossible. That's how I started painting with my mouth," she recalled.

After meeting her mentor Ganesh Kumar, Sunitha has never looked back. She continued painting, and till date, she has created over 3,000 paintings. She has also conducted exhibitions nationally as well as internationally.

Apart from painting, Sunitha, who is a Master of Arts in Malayalam literature, often writes poetry and short stories.

The Kerala-based artist is now preparing for an exhibition in Dubai but "the thought of boarding a flight" bothers her. Sunitha has raised concern over the lack of disabled-friendly transportation facilities in India.

Recalling her travel experience in public transport, she shared that she felt like a "luggage" whenever she travelled on a plane. "The process is more than just cumbersome at airports. I have travelled in flights thrice in my life and have had a very bad experience.

"The staff made me change my wheelchair three times before I could board the flight, and made me wait for long. My body cannot take so much pain. Airlines should create separate front seats for disabled people. Even in trains, you cannot take more than one helper along with you in a coach meant for disabled people. All these things should be changed. Our public system should be friendly to everyone," she said.

Like Sunitha, Bandenawaz Nadaf is also an artist who has never considered his disability a hindrance. Bandenawaz was born with disability of upper limbs. His right hand is a short stump and he doesn't have a left hand. So, he started writing with his foot and gradually developed an interest in art. Soon, he started painting with his foot. He is currently a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Association.

He, too, has designed posters for the "The Great Indian Election". His theme encourages voting in the rural areas, and advocates voting for all.

Asked if there is anything from which he wants freedom, Bandenawaz said: "I want freedom from discrimination. I want society to treat disabled people equally and behave normally."

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