In the frame: It’s not just sports that can be a force for inclusion
We go behind-the-scenes of a creative workshop to find out how art is a language we all speak…
‘Art is not limited by who you are; it’s for everyone’
It’s a Friday afternoon and we are at Abu Dhabi’s cultural hub, Manarat Al Saadiyat, for a creative workshop with a difference.
People wander in, greeting familiar faces as they arrive and striking up animated conversations about birthday parties, social events and what they’re doing this weekend.
So far, so ordinary - right? But this is no ordinary photography class. On the schedule today is the Unified Photography workshop, where children both with and without intellectual disabilities are learning to use a camera and set up the perfect shot, together.
Organized as part of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 outreach program, the initiative connects people of determination with the wider community to help build bridges and foster lifelong friendships beyond the sports arena.
“The Unified Art program is about promoting inclusion and acceptance in the community for people of determination to give them the chance to improve their photography and art,” explains Shaikha Ali Almazrouei, project manager, Legacy at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. “What we’ve seen from the workshops so far is that there are so many talented people, and maybe they’ve not always had the chance to show it. We wanted to give people to have a chance to attend sessions, explore their talent and be connected to society.”
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As the class begins and the students begin lining up their first shots, the excited chatter is punctuated by the gentle clicking of shutters and flash of bulbs.
Leading the class is Badar Al Nomani, head of photography at Manarat Al Saadiyat’s photography studio. For him, the exercise is about giving everybody the right environment and opportunities to discover their own creativity.
“We wanted to create an interest in art and photography in people with intellectual disabilities and inspire their creativity,” he notes. “It’s important that we make these connections with people of determination and continue to talk to one another. They are one of us, so we must gather all these opportunities to keep this going and be creative together. They have the tools, but they need the right environment.”
As we wander through the building, the students, with a little guidance on composition and lighting techniques from the instructors, begin showing off that creativity.
Esra is taken by the pieces of contemporary art dotted around the place including an enormous red gorilla, while 21-year-old Lea, a swimming competitor in the upcoming Games, puts herself in the frame with a series of sunlit selfies.
“I like coming to the Special Olympics Unified events because they are fun,” Lea says. “I get to meet lots of new people and make new friends. I learned a lot about photography today and took lots of pictures.”
From photographing the building to bright murals, flowers and shadows from the late afternoon sun, the students each bring their own unique eye to their work - which is something we all see as the class wraps up and the students take turns reviewing what they’ve accomplished and the images that inspired them.
DON’T MISS: Special Olympics participant artwork will be on display at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 taking place on March 14-21
One participant, Ziyad, starts talking excitedly about his images, pointing out flowers, a mural and a series of shots within one of Manarat Al Saadiyat’s many gallery spaces - and his enthusiasm for his work is infectious - we can’t help but smile.
But that’s not where today’s photography lesson ends: Some of Ziyad, Lea, Esra and their classmate’s shots will make it into an inclusive art gallery, open during the Games. Featuring the artworks made by the Unified Art workshop participants alongside contributions from UAE schools, the exhibition will display to the world just how deeply rooted inclusion is in the UAE community.
“We found some amazing talents here today, and the final result will be seen by everyone in the exhibition during the Games,” Badar smiles when the class is over. “Art is not limited by who you are; it’s for everyone. Art is a way to express ourselves, and it works for everybody. This is a language we all speak.”