[Art_beyond_sight_educators] The Vision to Teach

Lisa Yayla fnugg at online.no
Fri Oct 16 08:08:00 UTC 2009

excerpt from article

The Vision to Teach

Iranian artist Shahrzad Ossouli helps visually impaired students move 
beyond the darkness

In the two decades that Iranian artist Shahrzad Ossouli has been 
teaching art, she has watched all kinds of people pass through her doors 
— most of them disabled. Still, she has never considered her palette too 
full to take on yet another student. It was no different when a mother 
walked into her life two years ago with her blind and depressed daughter 
in tow. The mother only asked that her child be allowed to sit in 
Ossouli’s class and listen to the noises around her. Ossouli, however, 
offered to do more; she offered to teach the girl as well. The mother 
was grateful, but for Ossouli, it was the beginning of a spirited pledge 
to give sight — and hope — to her country’s blind.

In a class of 16, seven students are blind while the rest retain just 
five per cent of their eyesight. Ossouli considers it her goal to open 
the “beautiful window of art” to them. “I find working with the blind 
easier because they work entirely on feelings. Their world has 
limitations — but they’ll let you enter that world very easily. It’s 
teaching people who can see but are emotionally blind that I find most 
difficult,” she says.

She classifies her students into two groups: those born blind and those 
who suffered a loss of vision later in life. “Congenital blind people 
have no cognition of colours, so it’s important for them to learn how 
colours ‘feel’. For example, I tell them that the sun is beautiful, hot 
and fresh, so if they want to paint happiness or heat, they can use 
yellow. Of course, those who’ve never seen what things look like paint 
abstractly; they rely completely on the ‘feel’ of colours.”

The challenges of such an undertaking are many, but Ossouli’s love for 
teaching allows her not to give them much thought. “Some of the students 
get frustrated or depressed and most lack self-esteem. Many face 
problems at home as they come from poor families where their parents 
don’t know what to do. Art helps them feel better about themselves, 
increases their confidence and makes them happy,” she points out. “With 
these students you have to be very patient and strong, and communicate 
with them in a special way.” Ossouli recalls one student in particular 
who came to her six years ago, aged 14. “Both her hands were paralysed, 
so I began with teaching her how to use her mouth to hold the brush. She 
resisted a lot and cried all the time, but I kept supporting and 
encouraging her, telling her she was going to make a great artist some 
day. With all the love I gave her, she stopped resisting and started 
working. She’s a wonderful artist now.”

While Ossouli can relate success stories numbering a good few, her 
students aren’t the only ones reaping all the learning benefits. The 
artist, who has been painting since she was 15, says, “My experiences 
all these years have taught me that bodily health isn’t enough. Passion, 
eagerness and aptitude are mandatory, too. If you have these, absolutely 
nothing can stop you from becoming an artist.”

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